to harvest equality: farmworkers advocate. Photo
by Teri Currie.
Farmworker advocates push for legislation to end exploitation
of migrant workers
By Travis Durfee
Jayson remembers being pulled from school nearly 10 years
ago when his newborn sister succumbed to Sudden Infant Death
As he and his parents drove down the dirt road to their home,
Jayson asked where his sister was, and his mother starting
sobbing. “She stopped breathing,” she said, and Jayson began
to cry as well. Jayson remembers being dropped off at home
with his mother and siblings, all of them in tears.
And Jayson remembers his father having to return to work at
the dairy farm that very same day.
wasn’t even allowed to stop work,” said Jayson, who didn’t
want to give his last name. “I remember he quit because the
boss wouldn’t even allow him to stop work for the funeral.
He had to go back the day after the funeral, and we left [the
farm] the next day.”
As a farm laborer in New York, Jayson’s father couldn’t exchange
a few of his regular days off for bereavement time when his
newborn child died, because he had no regular days off—state
labor law doesn’t require farm operators to grant their laborers
a regular day of rest. Nor does the law give farm laborers
overtime pay, disability insurance or collective bargaining
rights, which are standard to nearly every other form of employment
throughout the state.
it pisses me off that farmworkers don’t have these rights,”
said Jayson, the eldest son of a migrant family currently
working at a 200-cow dairy farm in western New York. “My job
is one of the oldest professions there is, yet we are one
of the last ones to get equal rights. It just seems so basic.”
Frustrated that farm laborers still don’t have these basic
labor rights in 2003, Jayson and hundreds of advocates took
part in a 330-mile, two-pronged march departing from Seneca
Falls and Harlem to Albany for yesterday’s (April 30) rally
for farmworker’s rights.
A few hundred rally attendees fanned out into Capitol Park
in front of the Alfred E. Smith Building, as Jayson and a
number of other marchers and speakers addressed the crowd—a
wash of orange and red T-shirts reading “Farm workers deserve
equal rights.” The rally, organized by the farmworker advocacy
group Rural and Migrant Ministry, was a mix of speeches from
people of faith, labor advocates and politicians punctuated
by labor cheers translated in both English and Spanish, and
bursts from a mariachi band.
any employer can keep their employees’ wages, benefits and
other protections at a minimum, they will, unfortunately,”
said Mario Cilento, spokesman for the labor group New York
State AFL-CIO. “Because farmworkers don’t have a right to
collectively bargain, it is obviously much easier for the
farm owners to do so. Most farmworkers are being taken advantage
of, and that’s embarrassing in this day and age.”
The AFL-CIO and a number of labor and religious groups have
long lobbied the Legislature for better treatment of the state’s
farm laborers and have received incremental changes along
But for the past two years, these groups have been lobbying
for the all-encompassing Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act,
a bill that has passed the Democrat- controlled Assembly each
of the past two sessions, but has failed to make it to floor
of the Republican-controlled Senate.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Olga Mendez (D-L-R-I, Bronx),
specifically grants farmworkers collective bargaining rights,
requires employers of farm laborers to allow at least 24 consecutive
hours of rest each week, provides for an 8-hour workday, and
requires the standard time-and-half rate of pay for hours
worked over 40 per week. The legislation also seeks to make
unemployment-insurance law applicable to farm laborers injured
on the job.
could we reconcile giving subsidies to the farmers, yet we
continue to deny rights to the farmworkers?” Mendez said.
“If there is an injustice going on, and a lot of people get
involved, social change will occur.”
But Mendez and other advocates are up against the state’s
powerful agricultural lobby, specifically the New York Farm
Bureau. Julie Suarez, spokeswomen for the farm bureau, said
Mendez’s all-encompassing labor legislation would be harmful
to farmers, specifically the provisions for collective bargaining
you’re talking about collective bargaining, you’re talking
about putting farmers in an untenable position,” said Suarez.
“Unlike manufacturers of widgets, you only have a very limited
window to get the crop in, so the possibility of a strike
would absolutely put the farmer out of business in a second.”
But Richard Witt, executive director of the Rural and Migrant
Ministry, said concerns about a farmworker strike during harvest
doesn’t apply to a number of the state’s farm laborers working
on nonseasonal dairy or poultry farms.
you continue to deny farmworkers these rights, essentially
what you are saying is that they’re second-class citizens,
that they are less human than all of the people employed in
the state,” Witt said. “It’s not fair to balance a system
on the backs of one class of people, and it’s not like getting
these rights is going to break the industry.”
Jayson had high hopes for yesterday’s rally and its effect
on the state Legislature.
all these people have marched all this way and we still don’t
get these rights, I don’t see how we can do anything but step
up our game and just wreak havoc,” said Jayson. But the bill
did not make it to the Senate floor Wednesday, stalling in
the labor committee.
Regardless of how he decides to “wreak havoc,” Jayson, who
worked an additional 24 hours the week before last so he could
spend his spring break on the march, said he will be 18 and
ready to vote in the state’s upcoming legislative elections
in November 2004. If Mendez’s legislation hasn’t been passed
by the time he gets to cast his first state vote, Jayson said
he will be calling his representatives to see where they stand
on his rights.
Lets the Dogs Out?
Mixed reactions to proposed restrictions
on pets running loose in Albany parks
By John Gallagher
crowded seats, stood against walls and even sat on the floor
in City Hall as the Common Council listened to comments on
proposed changes to Albany’s animal-control laws.
The hearing filled the room with two opposed groups of people:
One group calling themselves “responsible dog owners,” and
the other complaining about the public-safety risks caused
by dogs running loose in the city.
Several changes to animal-control laws are being considered
by the council. Two of these changes incited a group of dog
owners to attend the hearing and speak out. One proposed change
would restrict dogs from coming within 100 feet of any playground
in the city—an increase from the 25-foot restriction under
current law. Another would take away dog owners’ rights to
let their dogs run free in the city’s parks.
Among those who spoke out in favor of the changes were several
seeing-impaired residents of Albany—residents who require
service, or guide, dogs to get around. They complained about
uncontrolled dogs bothering and even attacking their service
Barry Berberich, executive director of the Northeastern Association
of the Blind at Albany, brought up an incident from two years
ago, where a service dog belonging to a NABA member was attacked
by an aggressive, unleashed dog on the corner of Lexington
and Central avenues in Albany.
Berberich said that people who are seeing-impaired shouldn’t
have to live with the fear and danger of being bothered by
yourself in their shoes,” Berberich said. “The needs of people
who are blind have to be addressed.”
City officials and some dog owners in Albany also claim that
the unleashed dogs cause public-safety hazards.
Detective James Miller, spokesman for the Albany Public Safety
Department, said that irresponsible dog owners pose serious
risks to public well-being. “We saw a definite increase in
the number of dog attacks [last year] in which all of the
dogs were running loose,” Miller said.
While the current dog ordinance allows owners to let their
pets run free only in the city’s parks, Miller said people
have been attacked by dogs running loose on several occasions,
some taking place in parks and others on the streets.
weren’t adhering to [the ordinance],” Miller said. “The urban
setting is not conducive to dogs running loose.”
Recently, the city has made changes in an attempt to crack
down on the growing problem of dog attacks by patrolling more
aggressively for uncontrolled or unlicensed animals and even
creating a separate unit within the Department of Public Safety
for animal-control officers. The animal-control law changes
are a part of the stepped-up effort to reduce dog- related
The current ordinance allows dogs to run free if their owners
have them under voice control—a condition that even opponents
of the proposed changes seem to agree isn’t met by the majority
of dog owners.
people who come [to the park] don’t train their dogs well,”
said R A De Prima, a local dog owner.
De Prima said that even though the current leash law poses
certain problems, he believes it benefits the city and the
park, and shouldn’t be revised. He is one of a group of people
who bring their dogs regularly to a section of Washington
Park known as the dog run.
Supporters of the current law would like to see specific areas
set up in the parks for the dogs to run, separated from the
rest of the public.
Michael Hardek, owner of a Doberman named Coco, moved to Albany
recently from New York City, where there are dog runs in many
dogs need a place to run in the city,” Hardek said.
On the other hand, many dog owners who always keep their dogs
leashed complain about uncontrolled dogs. They point out that
dogs running free can pester, and trigger aggressive behavior,
in some leashed dogs, which leads to confrontations.
A separate area for the dogs to run would help to solve this
problem, De Prima said. He would like to see one in Washington
Park as well as in other city parks. Currently, there is one
official dog park in Albany, located near the Huck Finn Furniture
Warehouse downtown. This is hardly a convenience for dog owners
living around the Washington Park neighborhood, De Prima said.
De Prima also pointed out the inconvenience of people loading
dogs into their cars, bringing them down to the park—which
he said is often muddy—and then driving them back home.
what about the people who don’t have cars?” De Prima asked.