Dairy Farmworkers Push Back Against Wage Theft: Stolen Back Pay Recovered



March 22, 2015

Workers’ Center of Central New York

232 E. Onondaga St.

Syracuse, NY 13202

Contact WCCNY 315.218.5708

Dairy Farmworkers Push Back Against Wage Theft:

Stolen Back Pay Recovered

SYRACUSE, New York – Former Dairy farmworkers from Demko Inc. in Lowville, NY recovered $700 in stolen wages for two workers, following the delivery of a demand letter to the owner of the farm on Sunday March 1, 2015. The collective action also pushed the employer to start paying all workers at least the current minimum wage of $8.75. The action was supported by the Workers’ Center of Central New York (WCCNY) and the May First Agricultural Workers Committee.

Earlier this year, David Arevalo suffered chest injuries from being kicked by a cow. With the help of the WCCNY and other farmworkers he received the necessary medical attention. “After talking with members of the WCCNY I found out that I had the right to workers’ compensation and also learned that New York’s minimum wage is $8.75 and the owner only paid me $6.00 an hour.”

The workers also demanded Demko Farms pay their current workers the required state minimum wage, which went up to $8.75 this year. “All owners should follow the law, pay the minimum wage and give workers proper medical attention when injured on the job,” said Rebecca Fuentes, WCCNY organizer. They also demand current farm workers get back pay for the remaining of the wages they have not been paid since the minimum wage went up on December 31, 2014.

“There is simply no excuse for employers who do not pay the minimum wage. Wage theft is a crime, just like any other form of theft, but many workers are hesitant to speak up for their rights due to fears of employer retaliation. Mr. Arevalo and his colleagues should be commended for their courage. May they inspire other farmworkers to fight back against abuse and exploitation.” Said Carly Fox, Worker Advocate with the Worker Justice Center of NY.

Demko farms is just one of many players in an industry fraught with wage theft and health and safety violations. Wage theft in farms typically occurs when employers fail to provide workers with their last paycheck or are not paid minimum wage. “Our collective action represents the desire of workers to be treated with dignity and respect. Our labor makes New York one of the highest producers of milk and the number one producer of Greek yogurt in the country,” said Jose Cañas, one of the workers who participated in the collective action.

Since 2013, The Workers’ Center of Central New York, located in Syracuse NY, has helped dairy workers from different farms in Upstate New York secure more than $3,000 in stolen back pay.