June 9, 2009

Assembly Passes Farmworkers Bill of Rights
Legislation requires weekly day off, overtime pay for farm laborers

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Labor Committee Chair Susan John announced today the passage of legislation that grants collective bargaining rights, workers' compensation and unemployment benefits to farmworkers. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (A.1867), sponsored by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, also allows laborers on farms a weekly day of rest and overtime pay, and requires safe and sanitary working conditions.

"Our agricultural workers have been denied the same rights as other laborers in the state, from fair pay and a day of rest to safe and sanitary working conditions, for far too long," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "We rely on these workers to keep our state's largest industry running and to bring food to our tables. They deserve equal rights under the law."

"Agriculture is New York State's largest economic engine. It is crucial that we protect these workers, especially at a time of economic uncertainty, and provide them with the same rights other workers enjoy, such as unemployment insurance, workers compensation and the right to bargain collectively," said John (D-Rochester).

"Farmworkers deserve the same collective bargaining rights, worker's compensation rights, unemployment benefits and other basic rights allocated to workers in other industries. They have been left behind long enough," said Nolan (D-Queens). "Rights to overtime pay and a day of rest each week will result in a safer work environment and fewer injuries to farm workers."

Currently only large farms pay unemployment insurance for their workers, but this measure would include workers on small farms as well. While not mandating that farm workers form unions, this bill deletes the exemption in state law that forbids farmworkers from collective bargaining. Workers' compensation benefits would be extended to farmworkers, and those employees would also be protected from unlawful discharge if they request a claim form regarding injuries that occurred at work.

The measure also applies sanitary codes to all farm and food processing labor camps intended to house migrant workers, regardless of the number of occupants.