Sowing the seeds of the farm workers’ labor rights debate

Sowing the seeds of the farm workers’ labor rights debate

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Farm workers’ advocates are preparing to march 200 miles up to Albany in the name of better labor conditions, and we think lawmakers should listen.

A group called the Rural Migrant Ministry organized the annual March for Farm Worker Justice, which sets off on May 15 this year, as part of its lobbying efforts for better working and living conditions, overtime pay and more for farm workers across the region. One member of that group described farm workers as “living in fear” of the “strongholds” farmers have on them, and the group has accused state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) of failing to address their concerns since becoming majority leader.

But an anonymous website, nyfarmworkerprotectionbill.com provided the farmers’ perspective.

“RMM and others have recruited various celebrities and foodies to support the bill, as well as downstate and New York City legislators, most of whom have never even been to a farm,” the site said. “We believe these individuals have been misled and have not done the proper research to find out the truth about farms, growers, farmworkers and the challenges we face to bring fresh food to as many tables as possible.”

We understand there are different angles to this debate, but we also firmly believe workers of any type, whether they are legally employed or paid off-the-books, should be allotted some basic rights that lawmakers must find ways to put in placew. We are calling on our elected officials to engage stakeholders in this debate and hold a public hearing in which all parties can contribute to the dialogue.

There can be no mutual understanding without communication, and there appears to be a disconnect between farmers and their workers, or even between legislators and the agricultural sector. If everyone sits down together and has a respectful discussion, they may find fertile ground for compromise.

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