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New York State’s Labor Movement Is Pushing For Farmworker Rights - Unions Are Also Lobbying For ‘Expanded’ Prevailing Wages & Addressing The Gig Economy

Published Monday, June 3, 2019 10:00 am
by Bob Hennelly/The Chief Leader Via City&State
New York State’s Labor Movement Is Pushing For Farmworker Rights - Unions Are Also Lobbying For ‘Expanded’ Prevailing Wages & Addressing The Gig Economy

(ALBANY, NEW YORK) - For New York Democrats, occupying the Governor’s Mansion and controlling both houses of the State Legislature was like looking for El Dorado, a goal that often proved elusive but kept their sights ever focused forward.  But now the Empire State has joined the ranks of only 14 States with a Deep Bluetrifecta,” and Democrats face a challenge in meeting the expectations of those who helped them get to the promised land.

Atop the list of stakeholders looking for results is Organized Labor.

With 1 in 5 Workers Unionized, New York State has one of the highest Unionization Rates in the Nation.  The Labor Movement also flexed its muscles in 2017, delivered a crushing defeat of the referendum on A State Constitutional Convention and helped propel Democrats to pivotal victories in the State Senate last Fall.

Driving the Labor Agenda as the session hurtles toward the finish line is State Senator Jessica Ramos, who has renewed an effort to pass legislation benefiting Farmworkers - while pushing for the passage of other bills, such as a Measure To Strengthen The State’s Existing Prevailing Wage Law for public construction.

The chairwoman of the state Senate Labor Committee came into office this year with strong Union ties, having worked for Unions and in Immigration Law, and as the daughter of Immigrants, one of whom was a member of the now-defunct International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

At the top of Ramos’ agenda for the rest of the session is winning passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would grant as many as 100,000 Farmworkers basic Labor Rights and protections they were expressly excluded from under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

During the 80-plus years since then, resistance to Farmworkers organizing and gaining legal Workplace Protections has remained intense, with a tiny fraction of the workforce benefiting from Union Membership.

During the past two decades, New York’s Farmworker Legislation had been championed by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, but with the Republicans controlling the State Senate, farm owners and agribusiness had the upper hand.

“We helped the bill reach a major milestone by securing a thirty-second co-sponsor for the first time in its history, meaning we have a technical majority,” Ramos told City & State in an e-mail. “We must ensure that Farmworkers are granted the rights that all other Workers in our State are afforded - a day off, Overtime Pay, Unemployment benefits and the right to collectively bargain.”

Ramos has held hearings across the State to raise the visibility of the issue in hopes of forging a consensus.

“I am talking to all stakeholders in this issue, and I have toured the State talking to farmers and Farmworkers alike,” she said. “Farmwork isn’t like a (9-to-5) office job and is greatly impacted by inclement weather.  I hope to come to an agreement and pass the bill by the end of session.”

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in a phone interview that passing a Farmworker Labor Standards Bill, long a State Labor priority, is closer now than ever before.

“(Farmworkers) don’t have the right to Overtime Pay, which means Farmworkers can work sixty, seventy, eighty hours a week at the discretion of their employer for as long as the employer sees fit,” Cilento said. “And because they don’t have a right to join a Union, to collectively bargain, they don’t have any say on the matter.”

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