The Workers That Feed Our Families: Fighting for the Right to Organize

August 2, 2017.

The Workers That Feed Our Families: Fighting for the Right to Organize

Crispin Hernandez is a farmworker who felt he and others he worked with were not getting a fair wage or decent working conditions. The solution, he thought, was to organize with other workers to be able to negotiate with their employers. When he started organizing, however, he was fired.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), who is representing Crispin Hernandez, filed a lawsuit against Governor Cuomo and New York State challenging the firing. Oral arguments for the case were heard on July 20 and Supreme Court Justice Richard J. McNally Jr. who heard these, will announce a decision this month.

The argument turns on a law, dating from the 1930s, that excludes farm workers from the right to organize. The plaintiffs argue that the law is in clear violation of the state constitution, which gives all workers the right to organize.

In the midst of this court case, it is important to remember how vital these workers are to us all.  Furthermore, this lawsuit represents a moral and ethical issue, not just solely an economic one.

Immigrants are critical to New York’s agricultural workforce. Immigrant workers—undocumented immigrants, immigrants with H2A “guest worker” visas, and others that are lawfully present in the U.S.—make up 80-percent of seasonal workers and a substantial number of year-round workers.[1] These workers are responsible for producing the farm products we can all find at our dinner table or in our fridge, such as milk, apples, corn, tomatoes, yogurt and more.

Dairy production and processing industry alone generates $14 billion a year for New York State.[2] This does not include other agricultural industries which also generate revenue for the state, such as the apple pickers in the Hudson Valley.

In 2015, farm employees produced 14.1 million pounds of milk to be consumed and used in other dairy products such as yogurt, milk and cheese.[3]

Governor Cuomo understands the importance of these farmworkers. He said “New York’s dairy industry is thriving thanks largely to the men and women who work so hard to produce the world-class dairy products enjoyed by customers across the nation” when thanking them for their hard work in 2014. The governor and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also demonstrate their support for these workers by not defending the law that strips them of their ability to organize in the lawsuit.

Farm laborers work hard to feed their own families and ours as well. The farm economy depends on them. And, like any other workers, farm workers should have the right to organize to improve harsh and unhealthy conditions, and to negotiate to improve long work days, dangerous working conditions, poor housing conditions and common wage theft.[4] It is shocking that these workers still do not have the same rights as almost all other workers. Without them our refrigerators would have less fresh produce and our state economy would be stripped of billions of dollars in revenue. They deserve the right to healthy working conditions, and they deserve the right to advocate for themselves.

By: Cyierra Roldan

 

Here is a list of news clips that cover this case:

Report: Immigrant Farm Workers Treated Badly

Two-thirds of Dairy Workers Have Been Injured at Least Once, Report Finds

Arguments in Historic Farmworkers’ Rights Case Heard Thursday

Farm Injustice on Trial That Must End the Unfairness

Lawsuit Seeks to Win Organizing Rights for New York’s Farmworkers

 

[1] Working for a Better Life (New York: The Fiscal Policy Institute, 2007).

[2] Todd M. Schmit, The Economic Contributions of Agriculture in New York State (2014) (New York: Cornell University, 2014).

[3] 2015 – 2016 Agricultural Statistics Annual Bulletin: New York (New York: United States Department of Agriculture, 2015).

[4] Carly Fox, Rebecca Fuentes, Fabiola Ortiz Valdez, Gretchen Purser, and Kathleen Sexsmith. 2017. “Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State.” A report by the Workers’ Center of Central New York and the Worker Justice Center of New York.