Lawsuit Calls For Changes In Farm Labor Act

New York State farm workers are looking to make improvements to the Farm Labor Fair Labor Practices Act, an act which was originally put in place to help protect farm workers and offer them the same rights as other laborers in the state.

This is not the case.

During a recent hearing held in Buffalo, concerns of farmworkers and farmers were heard and addressed. The main concerns are the fact that farmworkers do not have the right to a secret ballot election or the right to decertify from a union.

“The main reason we filed the lawsuit in the first place is to ensure fairness for farmworkers,” Josh Viau, who represented farms at the hearing, said. “Farmworkers do not have the same bargaining rights as other labor workers. They do not have the right to a secret ballot or decertification. There are these cards they sign which essentially count as their votes. We’re working to change the law to fix that.”

Viau said that there was some progress under the Farm Labor Fair Labor Practices Act. Before, farmers were not allowed to discuss unions at all with their employees, which they now can do. Additionally, Viau said there were some pros and cons to the hearing, specifically that the judge did not give an injunction but agreed that farmworkers deserved these basic rights. Viau said that they will try to convince the legislature through additional steps to continue to try and advocate for these protections.

Brian Reeves, president of the NYS Vegetable Growers Association who was also a plaintiff at the hearing, said that nationally unions are not required on farms, but with the cards that farmworkers can sign, if the majority of workers sign the cards and the NY Public Employee Relations Board rules that there is no problem a union will be formed. If workers decide later that they do not want to be in a union anymore, there’s currently nothing they can do.

“If that farm later on says they don’t like being in a union there are no steps in the law that allows them to decertify,” Reeves said. “This is why we felt it is important to challenge the law and protect the workers. It’s taking away the right to make their own decisions.”

Reeves emphasized that farms are not anti-union, but want a fair choice as to whether or not they want to be in one. He added that this law has made it easy to become a union but hard to not have one, saying that the law should “allow unions but not necessarily encourage them.”

Senator George Borrello said that he supported these changes.

“This has been a travesty from the beginning,” Borrello said. “This was sold as it will protect farmworkers, but farmworkers didn’t want it. They are actually losing hours and are not happy. They couldn’t produce a single farmer in this hearing that was in favor of it.”

Additionally, Borrello said the law benefits migrants the most who are making money from it to send back to their families. He said that for most farmworkers it takes away their rights.

“With the cards, unions can know each member’s votes, which takes away their right to privacy,” Borrello said. “Farmers can’t talk to their employees about unions, which takes away their right to free speech. We have gone beyond with these restrictions and it is unfair and wrong.”


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