Author Archives: Rebecca Fuentes

Chobani: Respect Workers’ Organizing Rights


Contact: Eliza Bates,, 646.285.8491

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Chobani: There is No Farmworker Wellbeing Without Union Rights

NYS Labor Groups Pen Open Letter Calling on the State’s Biggest Yogurt Company to Respect Workers’ Organizing Rights

New York, NY: A coalition of labor organizations including the Workers’ Center of Central New York, SEIU Local 32BJ, the Worker Justice Center of New York, and the Farm Worker Labor Organizing Committee penned an open letter to Chobani calling on the company to commit to respecting union organizing rights. Chobani recently announced that it will partner with Fair Trade USA to certify suppliers, including on “Worker Wellbeing.” But labor groups have expressed concern about Fair Trade USA’s spotty record on respecting workers’ rights to organize after the organization certified a Central American melon farm with a history of union busting and grave worker exploitation. 

The letter was first reported in Forbes. The authors of the letter are asking Chobani pledge to support dairy farmworkers’ right to form unions in their workplace. 

After Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Farmworkers’ Fair Labor Practices Act, which extended union organizing rights to New York State farmworkers for the first time, among other important protections (the law goes into effect January, 2020), a member leader from the Workers’ Center of Central New York published an Op-ed calling on Chobani to respect worker organizing rights

With support from FLOC and SEIU Local 32BJ, members of the Workers’ Center of Central New York have met with Chobani several times to educate them on conditions at farms that supply the company, and have asked Chobani to sign an agreement supporting workers’ rights to organize. But Chobani has refused to commit to respecting union organizing rights. Now, allies are joining the Workers’ Center to call on the company to respect farmworkers’ right to form a union.  

The following is an open letter to Chobani’s CEO:

To: Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani

We, the undersigned, call on Chobani to make a commitment to respect farmworkers’ rights to organize unions in their workplaces. You say that you care about worker wellbeing. However, your refusal to commit to support the rights of dairy farmworkers to form unions undermines that claim.  

Chobani has a reputation as a high-road company. You’ve pledged support for improving the lives of farmworkers. Yet, today, many dairy farmworkers live in substandard, squalid housing on the farms that supply Chobani. Worker injuries are commonplace. Workers receive little or no safety training. And at least one of your suppliers has fired farmworkers just for trying to organize for better working and living conditions. After one of the fired workers filed a lawsuit with support from the Workers’ Center of Central New York, an appellate court found that it was unconstitutional to exclude farmworkers from New York State laws protecting other workers from retaliation by their bosses for organizing. With the Farmworkers’ Fair Labor Practices Act, those protections are enshrined into law.

Your certification partner, Fair Trade USA, has shown a disregard for union organizing rights. In 2018, 24 labor organizations and ally groups wrote to Fair Trade USA with alarm that the program continued to certify a Central American melon producer as “Fair Trade,” after the farm fired, intimidated, and blacklisted workers for trying to form a union.

There is no fair trade without workers’ rights. And respect for worker wellbeing has to include respect for workers’ right to freely associate.

You say that you want to empower dairy farmworkers. Well, our power comes from having a collective voice to stand up for our rights.

Workers who must fight alone to address issues in their workplace, without the strength of a collective voice, are not empowered.  

This is your chance to set an example for other yogurt producers and to show your customers, many of whom are deeply concerned with worker wellbeing, that you are truly committed to uplifting the dairy farmworkers whose labor makes your company the number one yogurt producer in New York State.

We’re calling on you to put your words into action and commit to respecting farmworkers’ right to a collective voice to create true worker wellbeing; that means respecting their right to form a union.


Workers’ Center of Central New York

SEIU Local 32BJ

Worker Justice Center of New York

Farm Worker Labor Organizing Committee 


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.

On the signing of the FFLPA, WCCNY calls on Chobani to step up!

Statement from Workers’ Center of Central New York on Governor Cuomo Signing Farmworker Rights Bill Today

New York, NY: Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Farm Worker Fair Labor Practices Act, a bill that gives farmworkers in New York State the right to form unions and other important protections for the first time. The law will go into effect January 1, 2020. 

The following statement can be attributed to Crispin Hernandez, former dairy farm worker, main plaintiff in Hernandez v. State of New York, and organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York:

“These new protections for New York State farmworkers would not have become a reality without the steadfast solidarity and support from our beloved brother Hector Figueroa, president of SEIU Local 32BJ, who passed away last week. He stood with the Workers’ Center of Central New York for years as we fought to protect the rights of farmworkers in our state. 

“We have the same determination to lift up farmworkers today that we had in 2015 when my coworker and I were fired from the dairy farm where we worked for organizing our colleagues and educating them about our rights. The lawsuit we filed resulted in a court ruling that it’s unconstitutional to exclude farmworkers from state law that protects other workers from retaliation for organizing. Now that those protections will be enshrined into law through the Farm Worker Fair Labor Practices Act, we are ready to take the next step and call on our bosses to respect our right to form unions. 

“Chobani, the biggest Greek yogurt company in New York State, recently announced a fair trade certification program for its suppliers. The farm I was fired from was part of a cooperative that supplies Chobani. It’s time for Chobani to show its commitment to fairness and to make sure that no other workers in its supply chain ever face retaliation for organizing. We are calling on Chobani to include respect for union organizing rights as part of the fair trade certification program.” 


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.

NY Assembly and Senate pass the Farmworker bill at last!


WCCNY Applauds the passing of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act

Media Contact: Rebecca Fuentes 315-657-6799

June 19, 2019 – While many issues remain unresolved, a bill that passed the legislature today provides hope that farmworkers in New York State will no longer be excluded from the rights and protections other workers enjoy in organizing and collective bargaining.

Modifications to the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act hashed in the last several days in committee provide for those protections and also ensure workers get at least one day off per week and that new sanitary standards are enforced at farm housing.

“This legislation is a great step forward in having the ability to organize and advocate for the rights and well-being of farmworkers who are so important to our state’s economy,” said Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer with The Workers’ Center of Central New York.  “It is long overdue.”

In exchange for a no-strike provision, the legislation provides other tools – such as employer neutrality and arbitration – that make it easier to for farmworkers to organize and bargain with employers.

We are disappointed that the right-to-strike was not included in the bill and we will continue to fight to expand the rights of farmworkers.  However, we’re encouraged about the new legal protections that have been so long in coming,” said Fuentes.  Likewise, she said she hoped that a wage board that would be created by the law would act quickly in lowering (from 60 hours) the threshold for farmworkers to get overtime. “This is a matter of equity and fairness,” said Fuentes. “Those who labor in the fields, orchards and dairy barns work hard and deserve the same rights as others. It’s time New York State does the right thing.”

The Workers Center has played a pivotal role in pushing for passage of the bill. The group has been organizing on the ground and active in holding rallies and protests and helping workers make complaints about health and safety issues at their workplaces.

Former dairy worker Crispin Hernandez, a member of the center, was a plaintiff in case in which an appellate court last month found unconstitutional the exclusion of farmworkers from a state law that protects workers’ right to organize without fear of retaliation.  That ruling help bolster the new legislation.

Historic win for New York Farmworkers!

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:


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.

Join us March 12 in Albany for Equal access to Driver Licenses for NY immigrants!

The Workers’ Center of Central NY and all of our partners of the Green Light NY: Driving Together coalition invites you to Albany on March 12th for a statewide day of action. Transportation will be provided and coordinated regionally. Please fill out the form below to register for the day of action and arrange transportation. We hope you will join us in Albany to demand Driver’s Licenses for ALL New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status!

Save the date and register here:
* * *
El Centro de Trabajadores del Centro de NY y todos nuestros compañeros y compañeras de la coalición Luz Verde: Manejando Juntos invitan a Albany el 12 de marzo para un día de acción en todo el estado. El transporte será proveer y coordinado regionalmente. Rellene el siguiente formulario para registrarse para el día de la acción y organizar el transporte. ¡Esperamos que nos acompañe a Albany para exigir licencias de conducir para TODOS los neoyorquinos, sin importar su estatus migratorio!

Guarde la fecha y registrarse aquí:

On the Road to Win Equal Access to Driver Licenses for NY Immigrants!

Great day to visit senator Rachel May and Assemblyman Bill Magnareli to thank them for co-sponsoring legislation to restore access to driver licenses for undocumented immigrants in NY. We also visited the offices of Assembly representatives Pamela Hunter and Al Stirpe to remind them to co-sponsor, as they told us earlier in the year that they would do. As we were leaving the office of Assemblywoman Hunter we got the news that yesterday she submitted the appropriate paperwork to officially be listed as a co-sponsor. We encourage everyone who supports immigrants in Upstate to please call the office of Assembly representative Al Stirpe to encourage him to follow thru and support immigrants, many of which work in agriculture which is an important industry in his district.

Thank you to Senator Rachel May for co-sponsoring!
Thank you to Assembly representative Bill Magnareli for co-sponsoring!
Thank you to Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter for co-sponsoring!
Support immigrant workers, Assemblyman Al Stirpe!!!! Time to sign on as a co-sponsor as you said you were going to do!!!

Green Light Senate Call in Day 2/22 Día de llamadas del senado LUZ VERDE 2/22

ENGLISH (véase abajo para instrucciones en Español)

Please make 2 calls today:

1. Your Senator (can be found here)

2. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (518) 455-2585

My name is (YOUR NAME) and I am from (YOUR CITY OR TOWN). I am one of the thousands of residents who support expanding access to licenses for undocumented New York residents. This will make our roads safer, it will allow people to follow the same process as everyone else and keep families together.  The bill number is S01747 / A03675. This bill is important to me because (REASON YOU SUPPORT LICENSES). Our community can not wait any longer, I urge you to sign on as a co-sponsor and take action to pass A03675/S01747 as soon as possible. Can we count on you to support expanded access to driver’s licenses?

If supportive:

Thank you! We look forward to working together with you to get S01747 / A03675 passed! The Green Light Coalition will be in Albany March 12th and we hope to count on your support.

If noncommittal or unsupportive:

What additional information do you need about the bill to address your concerns? Is there someone in your office our campaign can follow up with?

Please share a picture or video on social media and tag your rep and leadership!  Here are the graphics to share.



Favor de hacer 2 llamadas hoy:

1. Su senador (encuentre su senador aquí)

2. Lideresa de la mayoría del senado Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (518) 455-2585

Mi nombre es (SU NOMBRE) y soy de (SU CIUDAD O PUEBLO). Soy uno de los miles de residentes que apoyan expandir el acceso a licencias de conducir para incluir a los indocumentados.  Esta ley hará más seguras nuestras calles, permitirá que las todas las personas sigan el mismo proceso que los demás y se mantendrán unidas las familias. El número de la propuesta de ley es S01747 / A03675. Esta propuesta me importa porque (RAZON POR LA CUAL USTED APOYA LICENCIAS). Nuestra comunidad ya no puede esperar, le imploro que se anote como patrocinador y tomar acción para pasar la legislación A03675/S01747 lo más pronto posible. ¿Podemos contar con usted para apoyar expansión de acceso a las licencias de conducir?

Si apoya:

¡Gracias! Esperamos con mucha anticipación trabajar juntos con usted para aprobar a S01747 / A03675.  La Coalición de luz verde va a estar en Albany el 12 de Marzo y esperamos contar con su apoyo.

Si es evasivo o no apoya:

¿Qué información adicional necesita sobre el proyecto de ley para resolver sus inquietudes? ¿Hay alguien en particular en su oficina con quién nuestra campaña puede dar seguimiento?

Por favor comparte una foto o video en las redes sociales y etiqueta a su representante y el liderazgo, aquí está nuestra fotos para compartir en las redes sociales.

Stand Up for City Jobs!

Please share the following invitation from the Urban Jobs Task Force. The WCCNY is a member of the UJTF and we Stand Up for City Jobs!

“On Tuesday, August 21 at 8:30 am in the Common Council Chambers (city hall, 3rd flr) the Syracuse Industrial Development (SIDA) Board is conducting two public hearings about two development projects.

These two projects are asking for a real property, sales and mortgage recording tax exemptions.

 The Urban Jobs Task Force wants to fill the Common Council Chambers for these hearings to impress the city and the SIDA board that these tax exemptions must come with community benefits in the forms of city hiring and contracting. See attached flyer.

 One project is quite big: a $31 M redevelopment of the Post-Standard building by VIP Structures.  The UJTF successfully worked with VIP on the PriceRite Build.  We will be urging VIP to work with us again and urging SIDA to make it verifiable and enforceable policy that developers getting city tax breaks must hire out of city and give contracts to Minority and women-owned firms.

The second project is smaller: a $5 M consolidation at 222 Teal Ave of Central Restaurant Supply of N. Salina and Gerharz Equipment Inc at East Molloy Rd.”

Download the flyer here: SIDA Hearing 8.21.18

More information about the Urban Jobs Task Force here:


Our fight for the protected right to organize continues!

May 10, 2016 Filling of lawsuit in Albany NY

June 19, 2018 ALBANY NY– Plaintiffs Crispin Hernandez, the Workers’ Center of Central New York, and the Worker Justice Center of New York, who are represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed an appeal late Monday in a case challenging a Jim Crow-era New York law that denies farmworkers the right to organize without fear of retaliation. The lawsuit challenges the exclusion of farmworkers from the State Employment Relations Act, which protects the labor rights of virtually all other private sector workers.
Crispin Hernandez was fired from one of New York’s largest dairies,
Marks Farms LLC in Lowville, after his employer saw him meeting with co-workers and an organizer to discuss workplace conditions, even though it was after work hours and in a worker’s home. Hernandez, who had been working 12-hour shifts for six days a week at Mark’s Farms since he was a teenager, lost his job and his home. He filed suit with the support of the two worker centers and the NYCLU to ensure that farmworkers across New York have the same rights as all other workers.
“Today is an important day for farmworkers who have been fighting to be treated justly. Without farmworkers and our labor, New Yorkers wouldn’t have fruits or vegetables to put on their dinner table,” said Mr. Hernandez. “We deserve to be treated like human beings, without fear of retaliation.”
In January, the Albany County Supreme Court granted a motion to dismiss the case. Mr. Hernandez and the two workers centers contend to the appellate division of the Third Department that the exclusion of farmworkers violates the rights to organize, equal protection and due process under the New York Constitution.
“Farmworkers make essential contributions to New York State and to all of our lives. Their labor produces the food, nutrition, and money that sustain our economy and our communities,” said Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York. “It’s a shame the state excludes them from one of our most important protections: the right to collectively bargain without fear.”
Unlike other workers in New York State, farmworkers have long been excluded from the right to organize for better pay, benefits and workplace conditions without fear of retaliation. The State Employment Relations Act, passed in 1937, incorporated the federal New Deal Era-protections for workers into state law. However, in doing so, the state law created a carve-out for farmworkers, the majority of whom were black at the time, that legislators used as a compromise to get the votes of segregationist members of Congress. This exclusion now applies to farmworkers in New York today, who are, for the most part, immigrant workers. This lawsuit seeks to eliminate that carve-out and grant farmworkers the same rights as other workers to advocate for themselves in the workplace.
“Farmworkers whom we depend on to put food on our tables deserve to be treated humanely and with dignity like any other hardworking New Yorker,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “New York must end this outdated, racist policy from the Jim Crow-era, and treat farmworkers fairly and equally.”
Even though farming in New York is a multi-billion dollar industry, farmworkers often earn wages well below the poverty level, and many live in overcrowded labor camps and toil under sweatshop-like conditions. The combination of poverty, isolation, and lack of permanent legal status and language access makes farmworkers among the most exploited groups in the American labor force.
“There is simply no justification for depriving farmworkers of the basic right to organize,” said Carly Fox, an advocate with the Workers Justice Center of New York. “For many decades, each time farmworkers and their allies have advocated for much-needed changes to laws governing their labor rights, the Farm Bureau has used its power and influence to lobby New York lawmakers to preserve the status quo and leave farmworkers in a position of vulnerability. Justice is clearly on the side of the farmworkers, and we will keep fighting until we win full equal rights.”
When the plaintiffs initially filed suit in May of 2016, both the Governor Andrew Cuomo and then Attorney General Eric Schneiderman publicly agreed that excluding farmworkers from the right to organize conflicts with the state constitution. Both declined to defend the lawsuit in court. However, the New York Farm Bureau requested that the court allow it to intervene to defend the law as a party in the case. In January, the State Supreme Court dismissed the case, in a brief opinion that offered little analysis of the core arguments.
“The court ruled that farmworkers do not have a constitutional right to organize, despite the very clear language in the New York Constitution giving all employees the right to organize,” said Erin Beth Harrist, lead counsel and senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “Allowing this racist exclusion that continues to leave farmworkers unprotected in New York goes against our values and our laws.”
The New York State Attorney General’s office and the New York Farm Bureau are expected to file briefs regarding the appeal in the coming weeks.

Marks Farms fined after fatality

Marks Farms in Lowville NY has been fined nearly $25,000 after a worker died there last November.

On December of 2017 we wrote an op ed to bring attention to the history of disregard for worker’s health and safety and violations of other workers rights at this farm.

The fine it’s in connection with the death of 32 year old Ryan Ouellette. He died while working on Marks Farms just outside Lowville.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, cited the farm for 3 serious violations involving the safe operation and guarding of farm machinery and fined it nearly $25,000.

We demand that Marks Farms is not given any chance to reduce the fines (a common practice known as the “OSHA discount”) and that immediately eliminate any dangerous conditions and provide training and workplace protections to all workers to prevent more fatalities and injustices. All workers deserve safe and healthy conditions to make sure they come back to their families after work.

Another tragedy at Marks Dairy Farm in Lowville, NY