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A Proposed Law To Give New York State Agricultural Workers The Same Rights To Overtime As Other Workers

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Andrew Frisch

In today’s New York Times, Columnist, Bob Herbert supports a new law proposed in New York State, which would require the state’s agricultural workers to be paid overtime for their long hours of work. Read the entire Op-Ed column at New York Times. The proposed law has galvanized workers and the farming industry and has raised many questions regarding the treatment of so-called agricultural workers.

“…Farmworkers in New York do not have the same legal rights and protections that other workers have, and the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry has taken full advantage of that. The workers have no right to a day off or overtime pay. They don’t get any paid vacation or sick days. When I asked one worker if he knew of anyone who had a retirement plan, he laughed and laughed.

To understand how it’s possible to treat farmworkers in New York this way you have to look back to the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt was trying to get Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide basic wage and hour protections for workers. Among the opponents were segregationist congressmen and senators who were outraged that the protections would apply to blacks as well as whites.

Most agricultural and domestic workers were black, and the legislation was not passed until those two categories of workers were excluded. New York State lawmakers, under heavy and sustained pressure from the agriculture lobby, have similarly exempted farmworkers (the vast majority of whom are now Latino) from most state labor law protections.

There was a good chance — right up until Monday, when the State Senate went through a sudden and cataclysmic change from Democratic to Republican control — that something might be done about this legislatively. On Monday evening, the Assembly passed (and Gov. David Paterson has promised to sign) a bill extending much-needed labor protections to farmworkers, including the right to at least one day of rest per week and, more important, the right to bargain collectively…”

To read Bob Herbert’s entire piece go to the New York Times website.

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