Read and hear the voices of Workers in Central New York. Their stories, in their own words.
- WCCNY Board Member: Rosa Mejias
- Samuel, Dairy Farmworker
- Kevin, Dairy Farmworker
- Paige, Hotel Receptionist
- Hector, Janitorial worker
- Antonio Salinas, Farmworker, Worker leader, Member of WCCNY
- Crispin, Farmworker
WCCNY Board Member: Rosa Mejias
“My parents are from Guatemala. They were some of the first Latinos in the farming industry here, although there are many more Latinos now. I was raised here, and I’ve visited a lot of farms and have talked to lots of workers through the years. The biggest issue is that farmworkers are afraid of speaking up, losing their housing, they’re afraid that an employer will get angry and call immigration. And that includes when they get injured. They’re afraid to bother their bosses. I’ve seen so much fear, and I see how badly the farm owners and managers treat the farmworkers. I try to tell people not to be scared and that they have rights. That there are people and organizations like the Wokers’ Center of Central New York who will try to help them,” Rosa, proud daughter of farmworkers.
Samuel, Dairy Farmworker
Happy to share another victory! The owner of a ranch in Fabius gave Samuel a bunch of excuses not to pay the last check. The owner is also wanted to keep the money from their first days of work in that ranch. Samuel asked for support and recently received his cheques! One hour worked must be hour paid! There is no excuse not to pay! Don’t let them, call us if you have any questions. With our collective power, yes you can!
Kevin, Dairy Farmworker
Kevin worked as a dairy farmworker in one of the biggest farms in upstate NY. In a span of three weeks he experienced three accidents: a cow pushed him against a metal bar, he fell while milking cows at the parlor and a chemical splashed on his eyes. The lack of concern for workers health and safety and the high pace of work at dairy farms make Kevin’s experiences alarmingly common in dairy farm operations in NY
Paige, Hotel Receptionist
Paige was working at the front desk at a hotel in Oswego. When she decided to leave her job due to poor treatment of workers by management, she was told that because her plastic name tag was missing, she would lose her entire last paycheck. Paige fought back. She called the Workers’ Center of CNY and together, WC staff and Paige confronted her former boss and told him that his actions were illegal. A few weeks later, Paige was finally paid the money she was owed. Paige on why she worked so hard to get her missing money. “I knew that what they were doing was wrong and there had to be something that could be done. It wasn’t even so much about the money – just that it’s not fair. I didn’t do anything to deserve that.” Advice to other workers: “Know that there is someone out there who can help you, and if you feel that something is wrong, it probably is. Don’t do it out of spite, but because it’s right. You should be treated with respect.”
Hector, Janitorial worker
Antonio Salinas, Farmworker, Worker leader, Member of WCCNY
Hello, my name is Antonio, I’ve worked in New York for six years at a dairy and I’ve also worked at an apple farm. I’ve worked with tractors, cut trees, fed and milked cows and taken care of calves.
We farmworkers work so many hours for New York’s farms. We produce food and milk products in great quantity. I want to raise my voice today to stand up for my fellow farmworkers, so that all of New York becomes more conscious of the unjust conditions we work in.
I have worked more than 90 to 95 hours per week. We often work at least 12 hours a day. There’s no overtime, and sometimes farm owners don’t even pay minimum wage as they are supposed to.
After 12 hours of extreme work all you want to do is go home and sleep. But you are housed in deplorable conditions, sometimes with no heating in upstate New York winters, and you cannot even sleep.
I have to work because my family is counting on me. And we are helpless to improve conditions. If you complain to the farm owner, he will just tell you, “’If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else.”
Many farmworkers do not know their rights – the owners do not tell workers about their rights.
One of my worst experiences was when I unfortunately had an accident on the job. I fell from a machine that I was working on, and I told the owner the pain in my back was so extreme I needed to go to the hospital. The owner said he didn’t have time and ignored me. No one told me about workers compensation or called an ambulance. The next day I could not get up out of bed.
Only 30 hours after my accident did the owner’s wife take me to the hospital. There was no interpreter there. So she filled out my paperwork how she wanted to, in a way making it difficult for me to get worker’s compensation.
Farm owners take advantage of us in all the ways that they can, so they do not want us to know our rights.
I dare to raise my voice today because this is how I can help improve things for other farmworkers. So that the leaders of New York do something to make the injustices stop, because we are not animals. We are human beings, and we need dignity and respect.
Hello, my name is Crispin. I worked for Marks Farms in Lowville, New York for 3 years, and I was fired one day after our supervisor, who is the son of the owner, saw me with members of the Worker Center of Central New York, who tries to help agricultural workers to end the injustices where we work.
I worked for the dairy for more than three years. I was a teenager when I started. I support a family of more than 10 people, including my parents, brothers, and other relatives. This was my first time in this region, I did not know anyone, and I was very alone. The truth is it is very difficult to be so far from my loved ones.
The work was hard and intense. I worked a shift of 12 hours, six days a week, from six in the evening to six in the morning, or from six in the morning to six at night. The work is hard, rapid and constant, and there is pressure to finish it all. Sometimes you cannot take your half hour break to eat lunch, and if you take a break to drink water or go to the bathroom, you can fall behind. They don’t pay us overtime.
There are so many injustices where we work. They treat us like slaves and worse than the cows. It is as if our bosses and supervisors don’t see us as human beings. One supervisor, who is the son in law of the owner, hit a worker, Francisco, in front of other workers. No one did anything to stop it, everyone is afraid to say anything to him. They intimidated us to not go to a protest outside that was about what happened to Francisco.
There are many work accidents in dairies and many workers have died. Many are not trained. When I started to work, a cow stepped on my hand. The owner and her daughter were there and they saw that my hand was bleeding. They didn’t care, and they did not tell me how to go to the hospital or doctor. They did not give me a day off.
I don’t know many people outside of the farm where we live. We don’t have transport. The “raiteros” (people who give us rides) charge us a lot of money so that we can go to buy groceries and return home.
Without the Workers Center, I would be isolated. Sometimes, once a month, a volunteer or Rebecca drives more than two hours to arrive at the trailer where we live. We cannot go to this place without volunteers coming to get us because raiteros charge us more than $500 to take us to Syracuse. Rebecca arrived at the farm, we had a meeting to discuss health and safety in the workplace, obtaining English classes, and the ways in which we could improve working conditions.
We should have the right to do what we want after work. But when the son of the owners saw Rebecca with us, he called the police. We were very afraid.
They fired me after this and I lost my house. They gave me a piece of paper to sign, but it was in English. I had only four days to move and I did not know if they were going to call the police again, and I did not know where to go.
Although I am afraid, but I am here because it is not just what is happening to workers like me. There are so many injustices. I believe that we are all human beings and that we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
I want the people to know where milk comes from. Without agricultural workers and our labor, there would not be fruits or vegetables. But we feel like we are treated as if we don’t have rights. As if our lives are not important. As if our supervisors could take our earnings, could fire us, or could frighten us when we try to improve working conditions.
I do not want these injustices to continue. I have hope that we can achieve change. I want to ask for your help so that we can change these injustices, that New York will become a state that treats us well, that treats us with dignity and respect.