Take Action Now to Protect NY Farmworkers from COVID-19 (from the Worker Justice Center of New York)

Take Action Now to Protect NY Farmworkers from COVID-19

New York’s farmworkers are geographically isolated and face extreme challenges in securing food and supplies even in ordinary times. Lack of reliable transportation makes it difficult to seek testing and medical treatment. Some employers are failing to take the necessary measures to protect workers from COVID-19, and even less so on farm labor camps where workers often live in over-crowded and unsanitary conditions.

It’s Farmworker Awareness Week! Will you fight for the workers who keep us fed at great risk to themselves? 

Here is what you need to do:

1. Read our letter to Governor Cuomo and the legislature here.

2. Contact Governor Cuomo, your NYS State Senator and Assembly Member today.

3. Tell them to take swift action to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of New York’s farmworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic by: 

  • Developing a coordinated plan to address the unique needs of the agricultural workforce, including accessible know-your-rights materials, free testing in rural communities, and food and clean water. 
  • Requiring agricultural employers to inform workers about their rights to COVID-19-related benefits, like paid sick leave, paid family leave, and temporary disability. 
  • Extending unemployment benefits to H-2A workers affected by COVID-19.
  • Providing direct financial assistance to farmworker families regardless of immigration status.
  • Mandating health and safety protocols specific to COVID-19 for agricultural operations and farm labor camps.

Can you do even more?

We know that we will only get through this by working together. That’s why we’re asking you support these important campaigns led by some of our key partners! 

  • Sign on to the Food Chain Workers Alliance’s petition to Protect Front Line Food Workers during and after the pandemic.
  • Support the NY United Campaign and call on all levels of government to immediately enact common-sense measures to ensure immigrants across the state can remain safe and healthy. Text NYIC’ to 528-86 or go to bit.ly/NYUnited and follow the prompts!
  • Call for the release of people in immigration centers across NY State, including the 500+ people detained in the upstate Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia. Learn more about how to take action here.

Thank you for standing together with workers!

Chobani: Respect Workers’ Organizing Rights


Contact: Eliza Bates, elizamargarita@gmail.com, 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. www.milkedny.org

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. www.milkedny.org

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: 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

Census 2020 Press Conference

New York Counts 2020 is a statewide coalition of 190 partners from across the state. We seek to maximize participation in the 2020 Census. The coalition represents a wide array of issues and industries that include immigrant rights, labor, education, religion, health, government, technology, business, and libraries.

We held a Press Conference on April 1st for the 2020 census. We stood in front of the State Building in downtown Syracuse, NY. We are urging other Community-Based Organizations to join our coalition to help count the hard to reach communities. New York Counts 2020 is asking The State of New York to invest $20 million for a community -based outreach for the 2020 census. Community-based organizations need to assure that the people who are at the most risk of not being counted are indeed counted. Members of the coalition who spoke at the press conference were Fabiola Ortiz from New York Immigration Coalition. Kayla Kelechian from the Worker’s Center of CNY. Scott Kushner, a rep form Liverpool Library spoke about the digital divide. Abdul Saboor, Community Navigator representing InterFaith Works, Office for New Americans and Telia Canion, Member of the Workers’ Center of CNY spoke about why she needs to be counted.

Our newest Workers Center Leader member Telia was able to speak at the press conference. We are very proud of her for her courage to stand up a speak in public for the first time!

Her is her full statement:

My Name is Telia Canion I am a member of the Workers’ Center of Central New York and I’m here today to say that I need to be counted, and my community needs to be counted. The Census is important for me because It will help people.  The funding that will be provided to programs that help my community thrive, depends on us being counted correctly.

I am important, I want to be counted. My needs are important, and so are the needs of my community. We need community groups to help educate us about the importance of filling out the census and what we can lose if we don’t fill it out. We need community groups to help us when we have a problem filling out the census, or when we have questions.

But if community organizations don’t have the resources to help communities like mine, who will do the work? Who will help us to be counted? I want to be included in the count, but If my community doesn’t know why it matters, then it won’t be easy to count us. Leaving our voices out is saying we don’t exist and don’t matter.

Our immediate future depends on it. I heard the census will be available online, well what If there are people without internet? Or who don’t speak English?

The Governor is acting as if we don’t matter, and that we don’t count. We need that $40 million to be counted, it is the least they can do to make sure we exist, and programs that help us exist continue to exist. We matter, we count. CNY Counts!

for more information check out: https://www.newyorkcounts2020.org/


Central New York Counts! Census2020 Press Conference

New York Counts 2020 is asking New York state to invest $40 million in community -based outreach for the 2020 census. Community based organizations need resources to assure that the people that are at greatest risk of not being counted are indeed counted! People will need to utilize many of the programs such as Medicaid, Highway planning, and SNAP, that rely on an accurate count of New York’s population.

People in our communities may face hurdles to be included in the census. Community based organizations need to be there for them to assist in anyway we can. As an added hurdle for many, for the first time, the census will be conducted primarily through online responses.

Community based organizations, libraries, and learning centers are uniquely positioned to assist and reach the hardest-to-count groups because of their earned trust and cultural and language competence.

Join us in front of the State Building Monday at 4PM to make sure Albany understands the importance of approving the $40million for the state, and for funds to go to our much needed community based organizations in and around Syracuse and Onondaga.

At this time, we are reaching broadly to community groups, community centers, learning centers, and elected officials. If you are a representative of a group and would like to co-sponsor this event, please contact Marianna.kaufman@gmail.com. Please share widely with other community groups servicing hard to reach populations to ensure we have a wide representation. NYCounts2020 is also looking for community endorsers for the coalition.

Tell Your Story Training

We turn to storytelling in organizing to answer the question of “why?” why we care, why the work that we do matters, why we value one goal over another. Storytelling allows us to communicate our values, and in organizing, we use stories to articulate our shared values. Each of us can learn to tell our story that can move others to action. We all have stories of challenge and hope. The trick is, to articulate a story , so it communicates the values that called us to lead and unite. Also, challenges that we must overcome together.

At our March 21, 2019 meeting we did a training on how to tell your story. We watched a brief video story about a women name Maura. Maura is a garment worker in Los Angeles, CA. Maura was fired from her job for speaking up about the inhumane conditions. She went to her local Workers Center for help. We watched Maura grow from a shy person into a vocal member leader at her local Workers Center. We discussed the fears that kept Maura from speaking out at first. How Joann, an organizer, encourages Maura to tell her story and explain how everyone has leadership potential.

In our training we spoke of how a story structure is made up of three elements: plot, character, and moral, but a story comes alive when the character faces a challenge, makes a choice, and experiences the outcome. The Public Narrative framework is comprised of a Story of Self, a Story of Us, and a Story of Now, and learning to craft and re-craft your Public Narrative is a leadership practice. We were able to write, tell our stories and practice public speaking.

We want to say thank you to all who attended our monthly meeting/ training. We have a meeting/ training every month. If you missed this one, that’s ok! We will see you at the next one.

Building Equity Together with the Urban Jobs Task Force

The upcoming I-81 Viaduct and community grid project is an opportunity for The City of Syracuse to expand and grow. Millions of dollars will be coming into the city for this project which means employment for City residents. I-81 promises jobs that could revive our struggling city’s economy, regardless of the option chosen.

One of the main questions asked is, who will get these jobs? The Urban Jobs Task Force and Legal Services of CNY have noticed the extreme disparity in the local construction industry workforce along racial, gender and residential lines. The UJFT conducted a Racial Equity Impact Statement (REIS). The name of the report is Building Equity together in the Construction Trades.

Next step is, to get the information out.

Workers’ Center of CNY organizers sat with the Urban Jobs Task Force to figure out the best way to get the information out. It was decided to hold a dinner and invite community stakeholders, public officials, residents, and other community organizations. Countless days and hours passed as we sat together trying to figure it out. Who do we invite? How many people should attend? Where will the location be? What will go inside the information folder? Seating arrangements? And many more questions asked.

On March 14, 2019, we had the Building Equity Together event at the Downtown Marriott Syracuse. Over 100 people attended. Decka Dancil president of the UJTF hosted the event. Andrew Croom lawyer with Legal Services of CNY and one of the authors of the REIS Report gave the presentation. Croom outlined the History of Racial Discrimination in the city of Syracuse, The Current State of the Syracuse Workforce, Policies Addressing Equity on Construction Projects and the Trades Racial Diversity on Large Scale Municipal Projects in the Syracuse Area. We heard stories from workers who are directly affected. We learned about the struggles they went through with finding employment and being able to get construction training. We heard about their future hopes for gainful employment through the I-81 project.

At the end of the presentation, we did a call to action. We asked attendees to fill out commitment cards. Asking what commitments can they make today to ensure Racial Equity in the Construction Trade. Create a diligent and effective roundtable of Unions? Create a roundtable of Workforce developers, community stakeholders, and government officials around I-81 development. Using their platform for outreach and publicity in our community to further the mission.

We ended the night awarding Aggie Lane with the Building Equity Service Award.

The Urban Jobs Task Force is a collaboration of individuals and
organizations concerned about the lack of access to employment
opportunities in Syracuse and resulting in poverty faced by citizens. The UJTF advocates for job training, accessible apprenticeships, impactful legislation and community action that will lead to reduced poverty through good-paying jobs. Workers’ Center of CNY is a proud member of UJTF.



To read the full report go to:https://www.ujtf.org/reis

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: bit.ly/GLNYMobilize3-12
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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: bit.ly/GLNYMobilize3-12