The Bill passed!!!!
A Statement by Richard Witt, Executive Director, Rural & Migrant Ministry
Well, the thinkable has happened: The New York State Assembly and the Senate have both passed the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act. Now we wait for the Governor to sign it, which he has pledged to do.
I can remember a farmworker speaking to me back in 1991, upon learning that other New Yorkers had basic rights that he didn't, "Would you add your voice to ours so that we can be heard?" I asked him what they wanted. He replied: "Our dignity."
Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc. has been honored to add our voice to the voices of New York State's farmworkers throughout these years. The passage of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act affirms the dignity and humanity of farmworkers, and indeed, the humanity of all New Yorkers.
It has been a long journey. One could say that it has been over twenty-five years. One could say it has been a journey of eighty years - going back to the establishment of the legislative exclusions rooted in Jim Crow era racism, when farmworkers were excluded from equality, because of the color of their skin. One could say it actually has been a journey of close to four- hundred years, as the founding of our country was rooted in an agricultural system dependent upon exploitation and enslaved labor.
We have changed the path of history, and we are now on the road to equality.
We applaud the courage of the countless farmworkers who have marched hundreds of miles throughout the decades, made numerous legislative pleas, stood silently in vigil outside of the Capitol, and engaged in so many rallies and protests. Some lost their jobs, some were threatened and abused, yet they persevered in their quest for justice.
We have been heartened by the presence of thousands of allies from the faith, labor, activist and academic communities - from all corners of the State, who acknowledged our relationship with the farmworkers, as we eat the food they harvest, and benefit economically from their labor. The power of the movement was strengthened by the presence of the allies standing and marching alongsideof the farmworkers - speaking truth to power.
As we faced systemic and historical oppression, it often felt as if we were in the desert with Moses, wandering for years, trivialized, ignored. It is most difficult within our society to separate out the personal from the systemic, and so often the conversation became one of theplight of individual farmers, bolstered by a powerful Agricultural lobby interested in preserving a status quo. And so, the workers and the Campaign remained adrift in the desert. However, there were multitudes of strong-minded people who kept us going forward, living in hope.
We applaud in great awe the staff of Rural & Migrant Ministry, both current and former. Spread out across the State, often working late into the night and weekends, traveling hundreds of miles down dirt roads in order to ensure partnership and solidarity with the workers. We also are grateful to the Board of RMM, for their unwavering support of this movement. It is not easy to run a non-profit organization in the face of injustices, but they did it creatively and effectively.
It was a shared journey, and Rural & Migrant Ministry was honored to have been asked, all those years ago, to coordinate this Justice for Farmworkers Campaign. We are also honored to have shared this journey through the years with Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas, Worker Justice Center of New York, The New York State AFL-CIO, The Episcopal Diocese of New York, United Food & Commercial Workers Union, the New York State United Teachers, the Hispanic Federation, the Workers Center of Central New York, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York State Catholic Conference, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, the PathStone Corporation, and so many more.
We have been inspired by RichardWinsten, Esq. our lead attorney and advocate who ensured that the voice of farmworkers would constantly be heard within Albany; and our colleague Jose Chapa, who thanks to the support of UFCW 888, has coordinated this Campaign for the past three years.
The passage of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act happened because of the tireless leadership of a noble legislator, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, and her remarkable staff. Her willingness to be a champion for marginalized people, who live far away from her New York City district, was a testament to her commitment to a just New York State. She was relentless in her determination for equality, as year after year she would bring the Bill to the Assembly. She never gave up. We give thanks to Assemblywoman Nolan, Assemblyman Crespo, Chair of the Assembly Labor Committee, and to Speaker Heastie for their passage of the Bill.
The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act was finally able to gain passage in the Senate, because of the passionate and creative leadership of Senator Jessica Ramos, and her determined staff. Senator Ramos traveled across the State meeting with countless farmworkers andfarmers, and was able to build upon those relationships to craft a Bill that would pass in the Senate. We are thankful to Senator Ramos, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, for their commitment to remember and honor the men, women and children who harvest our crops.
We look forward to Governor Cuomo signing the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act. The Governor has stated his intention to sign this legislation. We are grateful for his appreciation of the farmworkers, and the need for New York to end their unjust treatment.
The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act has many provisions that improve the lives of farmworkers. It is a pathway to equality granting them new rights, though rights long received by other New Yorkers. Most notable, and one that the farmworkers have long said is apriority, is the codifying into law a process that protects them while bargaining collectively. There is also for the first time, overtime pay, which will begin at sixty hours. In turn, there is a pathway to forty hours. It will be up to a Wage Board (made up of a Farm Bureau member, a member of the AFL-CIO, and an appointee of the Commissioner of Labor,) to determine whether this pathway is possible. There is a voluntary Day of Rest, though if a worker works on their day of rest, they must be paid overtime. There is now the requirement of Disability Insurance and several other provisions. In light of farmworkers being completely excluded previously, Rural & Migrant Ministry celebrates that farmworkers are no longer excluded, and we believe they are on the pathway to equality.
We have long said that our goal at Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc. is to ensure that all are at the table. We renew our commitment to continue to stand with the farmworkers, and the farmers, as we work to implement this Bill, and to create an agricultural system in New York State that works for all.