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.