N.Y. Grants Farm Workers Labor Rights

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

To cheers from farm workers, their advocates and the state AFL-CIO, New York joined California enacting a wide-ranging law giving farm workers labor rights. The legislation passed in late June.

“Farm workers are finally getting basic labor rights including the right to organize a union, a mandatory day of rest, and the right to overtime pay. Organizing rights include absolute employer neutrality and binding interest arbitration,” said state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.

New York’s new law also sets up a state farm worker wage board to set both minimum wages and to mandate overtime pay for farm workers, said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero.

“Tens of thousands of lives will improve immediately and future generations of farm workers will also benefit for years to come,” Cilento said.  

“Today is the culmination of a decades-long fight centered upon one simple premise: That farmworkers deserve fairness, equality and justice. Today, justice was finally served.”

The New York legislation is important because – despite its image as an urban state – New York has a large agricultural industry, from the Hudson Valley on upstate. And many of its farms, such as in Orange County’s nationally known “black dirt” onion-growing country, depend on migrant farm workers.

Those workers, like other farm workers nationwide, are historically exploited by growers and sometimes by overseers who bring them to farms up and down the East Coast, including New York.

After lobbying by the United Farm Workers several decades ago, California established its own Agricultural Labor Relations Board to regulate wages, working conditions and the right of farm workers in the nation’s largest agricultural state to unionize. UFW and other unions lobbied for similar protections in the Empire State.

On the state level, New York and California fill a gap in federal labor law. It does not cover farm workers, a relic of when FDR needed Southern racist senators’ votes to help pass the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The Southerners’ price was to exclude occupations that were majority-African American, such as housekeepers and domestic workers, and majority-Latino, such as farm workers.

 

UFW said New York’s new law includes collective bargaining rights, and card check recognition where a majority of workers sign election authorization cards. “There is also a process for mediation and arbitration to achieve union contracts if traditional bargaining does not produce them. It is along the lines of the California mandatory mediation law the UFW won in 2002, which lets workers bring in neutral state mediators to hammer out contracts when growers won’t negotiate them,” it said.

New York’s new farm worker rights law comes just weeks after the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled for farm workers, their advocates and the ACLU in a case where a dairy farm challenged farm workers’ right to organize. The judges said banning the farm workers from organizing violates the state constitution’s guarantee that all workers have that right.

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Union Matters

Members of Local 7798 achieve major goal with workplace violence policy

From the USW

Workers at Copper Country Mental Health Services in Houghton, Mich., obtained wage increases and pension improvements in their contract ratified earlier this year, but the benefit Local 7798 members were most proud of bargaining was language regarding workplace violence.

The contract committed the employer to appoint a committee, including two members of the local, to draft a workplace violence policy. Work quickly began on the policy, and just last week, the committee drafted and released its first clinical guideline focusing on responding to consumer aggression toward staff.

“We are so excited to have this go into effect,” said Unit Chair Rachelle Rodriguez of Local 7798. “This was a direct result of our last negotiating session.”

The guideline includes the definition of aggression and an outline of procedures, all of which will be reviewed yearly. And though this is just a first step in reducing the incident rates and harm of workplace violence in their workplace, it still is a big one for the local, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a collective bargaining agreement.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work