Appeals Court rules in favor of Workers’ Center member: Farm workers included in constitutionally protected right to organize!
May 23, 2019 – The exclusion of farmworkers from a state law that protects workers’ right to organize without fear of retaliation is unconstitutional, an appellate court in Albany has ruled. The court sided with former dairy worker Crispin Hernandez, a member of the Workers’ Center in Syracuse, NY, in a decision released today. Hernandez and the center along with the Worker Justice Center of New York were plaintiffs in the suit filed by the ACLU after Hernandez was fired from his job at Marks Dairy in Lowville, NY for attempting to organize fellow workers after hours.
“This is a victory for farmworkers, as we have finally had our day in court,” said Hernandez. “All workers deserve to have a voice and be heard at their place of work, and farmworkers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”
Agriculture is big business in New York, and the work is difficult. Most of the farmworkers are immigrants and, without the same protections as other workers, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The suit, filed in 2016, argued that the exclusion of farmworkers violates the rights to organize and collectively bargain that are enshrined in the New York Constitution. The powerful Farm Bureau, which represents the interests of farm owners, sought to preserve the exclusion.
Rebecca Fuentes, lead organize with The Workers’ Center of Central New Yorksaid the ruling was a big win for farmworkers.“Today, the court recognized that farmworkers are entitled to the same rights as all other workers in New York state,”Fuentes said.“Farmworkers make essential contributions to New York and to all of our lives. Their labor produces the food, nutrition, and money that sustain our economy and our communities.”
Alongside today’s ruling, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would grant farmworkers the same rights as almost all other hourly workers in New York in addition to collective bargaining. These include overtime pay and a day of rest.
Fuentes said the court ruling provides more impetus for the passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would codify those protections.
The ruling is available here: http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/Decisions/2019/526866.pdf.
The Workers Center of Central New York in Syracuse has been working with dairy workers to organize for fair, safe and humane working conditions. Dairy production is essential to the economy of New York State yet workers, who are mostly immigrants, often labor under harsh and unjust conditions. For an overview, see our comprehensive 2017 report, “Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State. www.milkedny.org