Twelve years after its initial introduction in 2007, the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act has been passed by the New York state Legislature.
The state Senate approved the measure in a 40-22 vote June 19, with the state Assembly passing the bill 84-51 earlier that day.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the legislation, which would go into effect no later than Jan. 1, 2020.
According to press releases from the Senate and Assembly, the act gives farm laborers collective bargaining rights as well as workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits; addresses standards for working conditions; includes a requirement for overtime pay for those who work over 60 hours per week; provides unemployment insurance and 24 consecutive hours of rest each week; and requires sanitary codes for all farm and food-processing labor camps intended to house farm laborers.
The legislation has been on the radar of the Diocese of Rochester’s Diocesan Public Policy Committee for the last 15 years, according to Jack Balinsky, diocesan director of Catholic Charities. That’s why the committee elected to make the legislation the focus of its annual diocesan Public Policy Weekend this past year, during which parishioners were asked to sign petitions in support of the bill.
“We are pleased that our advocacy for justice for farmworkers — and there are many farmworkers in the Diocese of Rochester — has been achieved through this bill,” Balinsky told the Catholic Courier in a June 26 interview.
Also for the past 15 years, the Poughkeepsie-based organization Rural & Migrant Ministry has led a Justice for Farmworkers Campaign to educate the public and advocate for legislative change, according to the campaign’s website.
Jos√© Chapa, who has been the campaign’s legislative coordinator for the past three years, told the Catholic Courier that farmworkers have been excluded from basic rights and protections since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
“Farmworkers have been exploited for their labor for far too long,” Chapa remarked June 25. “I am happy to see that New York has finally taken a step closer towards equality.”
Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, agreed.
“For too long, farmworkers have been treated unjustly under the labor laws which protect workers in every other area and industry. At long last, our state is saying farmworkers are equal in human dignity to the rest of society,” Barnes said in a June 19 statement.
In addition to protections for farmworkers, Balinsky pointed out that the bill also includes protections for farmers, noting that it prohibits farm laborers from striking against agricultural employers.
“We are also pleased that the final bill was worked out in such a way as to provide protections for farmers, particularly around the strike provision, because we recognize the farmers in our diocese and in our community are an important part of the economy, our way of life, and important supporters of the Catholic Church,” he said.