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  • New York State Sued Over Denying Basic Labor Protections To Farmworkers
    Posted On: May 19, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, May 20, 2016

    The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the exclusion of farmworkers from the basic right to organize and collectively bargain under the New York State Employment Relations Act.  Aadhithi Padmanabhan, a legal fellow at the NYCLU, says the farmworker exclusion is a remnant of the nation’s racist Jim Crow history:

    [Aadhithi Padmanabhan]: “Farmworkers are excluded from both the national and state labor relations law.  The National Law [which was passed first and on which the state law was explicitly modeled] excluded agricultural workers because Southern Democrats, who were very important and necessary to secure the passage of the legislation.  They had a deep interest in the racial subordination of black workers…and that exclusion and that purpose for that exclusion was incorporated into the state law by virtue of the fact that it was modeled on the federal law.  The agricultural workforce in the 1930s was disproportionately African American, and today, in New York, at least, the agricultural workforce is predominantly Latino, with a high number of workers from Mexico and Central America.  So, there’s absolutely a racial impact to the laws that exist today as well.”

    The NYCLU filed the suit on behalf of Crispin Hernandez, a farmworker fired from Marks Farms, one of the state’s largest dairies.  Hernandez attempted to set up a workers’ committee on the farm to discuss various workplace issues:

     [Aadhithi Padmanabhan]: “Mister Hernandez, and one of his other co-workers felt that they had the right to do what they were doing.  So they continued.  A week later, they were going from trailer-home to trailer-home on the farm trying to talk to the other workers about their rights.  They were stopped on the road by the farm manager.  The very next day, Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Pinto were fired.”

    Padmanabhan notes that farmworker wages average well below the poverty level, with some of the highest rates of fatalities and workplace injuries.  They are also excluded from other labor protections, such as overtime pay.  She says the right to organize is a critical tool to advocate for better working conditions: 

    [Aadhithi Padmanabhan]:  “The state law violates the state constitution, because the state constitution provides that employees shall have the right to organize and collectively bargain.  It provides that without limitation.  Governor Cuomo has said that he agrees that the exclusion of farmworkers violates constitutional prinicpals, and he will not be defending the exclusion in court.  And we were thrilled about that.  We want a speedy resolution so that farmworkers can exercise this right with protections as soon as possible…and we’re doing everything that we can to work towards that.”

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