NYS Farmworkers fight for the right to organize

We would like to invite you to hear from dairy farmworker leader Crispin Hernandez and the co-authors of the recently published report Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State at an Ithaca forum:

Milk Cows, Not Workers
Monday, July 31, 7pm
Unitarian Church, 306 N. Aurora St. (@ Buffalo St. entrance), Ithaca
Free and open to public

Hernandez is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit before the New York State Supreme Court concerning the rights of farmworkers to organize. The first arguments in Hernandez v. New York State were presented on Thursday, July 20.  Hernandez was fired from his job at one of the state’s largest dairies for his organizing efforts to address health and safety issues in his workplace. If the case is decided in Hernandez’s favor, more than 60,000 New York farmworkers will finally gain the right to collective bargaining, after having been excluded from this right for eight decades.

The report Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State was produced by the Worker Justice Center of New York (WJCNY) and the Workers’ Center of Central New York (WCCNY). Co-authors participating in the Ithaca forum include:

  • Carly Fox, organizer for WJCNY;
  • Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer for WCCNY;
  • Fabiola Ortiz Valdez, PhD candidate, Anthropology, Syracuse University;
  • Gretchen Purser, assistant professor, Sociology, Syracuse University, and
  • Kathleen Sexsmith, PhD candidate, Development Sociology, Cornell University.

In the last 4 ½ years, 5 dairy farmworkers in the 8 counties surrounding Ithaca have been killed in avoidable incidents. Since 2011, the Midstate Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) and the Tompkins County Workers Center have conducted safety and health training and helped with wage theft and workers’ compensation fraud complaints for many of our area farmworkers. COSH and the TC Workers Center found all of the conditions outlined in the Milked report: extreme work hours, exclusion from federal safety and health standards and basic labor rights protection, and almost total isolation from the community.

Presenters at the Milked forum will share their findings based on interviews with 88 farmworkers across 53 farms in New York. After hearing about the working and living conditions of dairy farmworkers, you will hear what they are doing to fight back, and what you can do to help uplift these workers. Foremost among these is to support their lawsuitHernandez v. New York State, which argues that farmworkers should have the right to collective bargaining. This right, guaranteed to all other workers in this country since the institution of federal labor law in the 1930’s, excludes farm labor. Some states, most famously California after the organizing of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union, have instituted their own laws to include farmworkers. New York can and should do the same.

The lead sponsors for this event are the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Midstate COSH, the Tompkins County Workers Center and the Unitarian Church’s Social Justice Council.

Cosponsors to date are the Cornell Law School Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, Climate Justice Cornell, Amnesty International – Ithaca Chapter, Amnesty International – Cornell University Chapter, Committee on U.S. – Latin American Relations (CUSLAR), Cornell Organization for Labor Action, Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County.