ROCHESTER – Migrant farm workers and their supporters, including numerous Catholic labor and
social-justice advocates, are marching to Albany this week to press the state Senate to pass the Farmworker Fair
Labor Practices Act.
The act would require employers of farm laborers to allow at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week –
with the provision that workers could opt out of a day of rest; guarantee an eight-hour work day and an overtime
rate of one and one-half times the normal rate of pay; and grant farm workers the right to collectively bargain. The
act would also contain various sanitary and on-the-job-injury provisions.
The march is sponsored by the Justice For Farmworkers Campaign, a coalition of more than 200 organizations,
congregations and unions. The march, slated to take place May 1-10, was preceded with a rally and dinner the night
of April 30 at St. Michael’s Church, a predominantly Hispanic faith community.
Speakers at the rally included Hispanic farm workers as well as area Catholic and Protestant clergy, Catholic
religious, and labor and political leaders.
The march officially started the next day at 19th-century abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s home in Auburn, and was
expected to end with a 24-hour vigil in Albany from May 10-11, and a noontime rally at Capitol Park in Albany on May
11. Along the way, marchers were to make stops in Camillus, Syracuse, Oneida, Utica, Little Falls, Canajoharie,
Amsterdam, Schenectady and Colonie.
More than 1,600 people from around the country are expected to participate in the march, the second such march in
the same number of years, according to Bill Abom, coordinator of the interfaith Western New York Office of Rural and
Speakers at the rally said they were marching because they want farm workers to have the same rights that other
workers already enjoy. Juan Carlos Ortiz, a Mexican farm worker, said it was “incredible” that farm workers had to
press for such rights in 2004, long after other workers had gained their rights. However, he said he was heartened
by the growing support farm workers are receiving in New York.
“We know that we are not alone, and we think and believe that this is a country of dreams,” he said to applause from
The fair practices act has already passed the state Democrat-dominated Assembly, but has never made it to the
Republican-controlled Senate’s floor, according to Joseph E. Robach, a Republican state senator who represents most
of the city, as well as Parma, Greece and Brighton. Robach spoke at the rally, and noted in an interview afterward
that support for the bill is growing in the Senate, where eight other Republicans have cosponsored it. He credited
the New York State Catholic Conference, the state bishops’ public-policy arm, and grassroots Catholics as well, for
improving the bill’s chances of passage, since the church has been continually lobbying on behalf of the act.
Farm workers have waited long enough for passage of the bill, according to Aspacio Alcantara, director of Centro
Independiente De Trabajadores Agricolas, known in English as the Independent Farmworker Center. During his speech at
St. Michael’s, the Dominican immigrant said many farm workers are suffering from being excluded from the state’s
“It is they who are treated like second-class citizens,” he said. “It is they who are doing the work that others
don’t want to do.”
In an interview after his speech, Alcantara said farm worker advocates want to work with farm owners to improve the
economic climate for both groups. However, the provisions contained within the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act
are non-negotiable, he said. He noted that farm workers in such states as California, Texas and Florida have the
right to collectively bargain, and that he believes New York farm workers should have the same rights as their
“If the industry is to survive by excluding farm workers from basic rights and protections, then we need to change how agriculture is done,” he said.