Governor Cuomo signed into law the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act on July 17, guaranteeing farmworkers the right to collectively bargain, and receive overtime, disability benefits, paid family leave, one day off a week and unemployment benefits.
For the last 20 years the initiative had been a legislative priority for the New York State AFL-CIO, which encountered stiff resistance from the state’s well-organized agricultural sector. After Democrats won control of the State Senate in 2018, that changed.
Undoing 80-Year Wrong
The new law ends the exclusion of farmworkers from protections that cover the rest of the workforce that date back to when they were exempted from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and the 1938 Fair Labor Practices Act. Domestic workers were also denied those basic protections.
“As a practical matter, 100,000 farmworkers will have better lives,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Their families will have better lives.”
He continued, “This is a powerful, practical achievement, even more significant in the era of President Trump, who continually diminishes workers’ rights, who continually attacks labor unions, disrespects the disenfranchised and has made ‘divide and conquer’ rather than ‘unify and grow’ the credo of America.”
The Governor noted that it was his late father, three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo, who commissioned a study on Farmworker rights in 1991 that was the basis for the first bill on the issue to be introduced in the State Legislature in 1994.
Evokes RFK, Cesar Chavez
“Since then, the bill has had over nine prime sponsors, many of whom are gone today,” he said. “Robert F. Kennedy brought the cause of the farmworkers to national attention in 1967, with Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta and the United Farmworkers.”
The Governor was joined at the signing ceremony by his former wife, Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, and their daughters Mariah and Michaela, who have all been active in the farmworker rights movement.
The ceremony was held at the offices of the Daily News, whose editorial board has been doing advocacy journalism on behalf of the farmworkers since 1999.
“In fact, it would be exactly 20 years this Aug. 1, 1999, is when the first editorial was written,” Mr. Cuomo said. “They called it ‘New York’s Harvest of Shame,’ but that was just the beginning. That was followed with 92 more editorials over every legislative session—smart, factual and hard-hitting.”
‘Applaud Their Courage’
“We applaud the courage of the countless farmworkers who have marched hundreds of miles throughout the decades,” said Richard Witt, executive director of Rural & Migrant Ministry, a non-profit advocacy group. “Some lost their jobs, some were threatened and abused, yet their quest for justice kept forth. We have been heartened by the presence of thousands of allies from the faith, labor, activist and academic communities.”
The final legislation was the product of a compromise brokered by State Sen. Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, with the state’s agricultural industry.
The bill’s initial requirement that overtime be paid after 40 hours was watered down and replaced with a 60-hour threshold. The agricultural lobby also won a prohibition against strikes by farmworkers.
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