A freshman lawmaker from Jackson Heights is joining a 35-year veteran representative of Western Queens in the fight to win equal rights for farmworkers in New York State.
State Senator Jessica Ramos, who is more accustomed to the bustle of the Roosevelt Avenue business corridor, got her hands dirty planting onions in the planting fields of upstate Genesee County in an effort to advance the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.
As chair of the Senate Labor Committee, Ramos is preparing to open the first hearings on the legislation in more than a decade in an effort to pass it before the end of the legislative session in June.
Senate Republicans have blocked the bill championed by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan for years, measures that would establish an eight-hour workday for farmworkers with a day of rest each week, employers would provide workers compensation benefits to farmworkers injured on the job and unemployment for those laid off and it would allow farmworkers to vote for a union and negotiate collectively. The legislation would also require that housing facilities set aside for farmworkers meet basic standards of the Sanitary Code.
“Our Assembly majority has a proud history of passing worker rights legislation; including the right to clean drinking water for farmworkers,” Nolan, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1984, said. “This is a fundamental human rights issue. For that reason and many more, it is time to correct this injustice and proclaim that farmworkers should be afforded the same rights and privileges that all other workers currently receive.”
In 2016, Nolan hosted dozens of farmworkers at the Ridgewood Democratic Club for an afternoon during their protest march from Long Island to Albany. Nolan explained that farmworkers were excluded from the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to appease members of Congress from the south.
This week, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act got a boost from Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda when he penned a Daily News op-ed with celebrity chef José Andrés and José Calderón, the president of the Hispanic Federation.
“The condition of working people in New York State is much better, more just, and safer today than it was a century ago, but the plight of the farmworkers calls out for justice,” they wrote. “We finally have a chance to treat farmworkers with the dignity and respect they deserve. We urge our state Legislature and the governor to pass into law the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act before the end of the 2019 legislative session. We can’t wait any longer.”
Ramos, who is organizing three hearings on the bill that will all be held in farm country outside of Albany for the first time, was pleased with the support.
“I am thrilled to have Lin-Manuel Miranda, José Andrés, and the Hispanic Federation fighting for farmworkers’ rights with us,” Ramos said. “It’s time to grant farmworkers parity with all other workers, including a day of rest a week, overtime pay, unemployment benefits, and collective bargaining rights.”