Economic Justice Hevra
Justice for Farmworkers in New York State
Co-Chairs: Paula Galowitz and Lisa Zucker
Our campaign is focusing on passing the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. In New York State, agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry and it is essential part of a vital state economy. Behind that industry are 80,000-100,000 workers, who lack many protections that other employees in New York benefit from every day. The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act would grant agricultural workers essential labor protections, including the right to receive workers compensation, collective bargaining, fair pay for overtime, and a guaranteed day of rest.
In order to ensure fair labor rights and dignity for farmworkers in New York State, legislation must be passed by the State Senate and Assembly and signed by the Governor. We are partnering with the NYS Justice for Farmworkers Coalition and with Rural and Migrant Ministry to bring together BJ members, advocates for farm worker labor rights, others, and NYS farmworkers in support of this legislation and to bring awareness to this issue. Through these relationships, and our support of this legislation, we are establishing a more full understanding of ethical consumption and how we can extend that definition to include the people bring us the food we consume.
*Please join us in making/facilitating calls to Governor Cuomo urging for the passage of the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act. For more information about how to make calls, including a script, click here.
Two of our nation’s most transformative federal labor laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) and the National Labor Relations Act (1935), both excluded domestic workers and agricultural workers from wage and hour laws, the right to collective bargaining and organize to improve working conditions, and many other basic protections.
Justice for Farmworkers Campaign
We are at a remarkable moment in the history of American food. Things have changed. … Most of us are no longer ignorant of the environmental costs of the way we raise our food. …And we are concerned with the health of ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. But [these are] selfish concern[s]. We agonize over what we are putting into our bodies while remaining blind to the problems of farmworkers… If we are ever going to have a food system that is really sustainable, it cannot be done on the backs of people who are picking our food. – Ruth Reichl
Farmworker Stories: An Oral History of the Farmworkers of New York
In the summer of 2014, two college interns traveled from Long Island to the Finger Lakes to collect stories from a diversity of farmworkers in New York State.
You shall not cheat your neighbor, or rob him. Do not keep the earnings of a worker who is hired. Workers should not remain with you all night until the morning. (Leviticus 19:13)
You shall not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay him his wages on the same day before the sun sets, for he is poor and his life depends on them; otherwise he will cry to the LORD against you. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
Key Provisions in the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act
Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic
by Margaret Gray
Long Days in the Fields, Without Earning Overtime, NYTimes article, by Joseph Berger, August 7, 2014
Small farms, big problems: Labor crisis goes ignored in idyllic setting, Aljazeera America, by Peter Moskowitz, July 29, 2014
Past Hevra Work
The Economic Justice Hevra, along with a large faith-based community, supported the successful Living Wage NYC Campaign that eventually passed the City Council. The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act ensured that any private development project directly accepting $1 million or more in taxpayer subsidies, with revenue of $5 million or more, must pay employees a “living wage.” We held an education event at BJ to inform the congregation of the impact of low wages on workers and to illustrate the need for legislation. We are proud to have been a part of this city wide campaign and share in its success to benefit low wage earners in New York City.
Looking at who benefits when the State or City government gives subsidies to companies for “economic development” and “job creation” the Hevra then held another community educational event focused on two case studies involving Fresh Direct and sports arenas. According to a Fiscal Policy Institute report in 2010 New York State and its local governments (including New York City) and local Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) provide approximately $8.2 billion annually in various business tax expenditures in the name of job creation. We asked the question, are we getting what we pay for as taxpayers? Is the public or big business benefiting?
It’s ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves. – Cesar Chavez