Support the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act

Posted 13 June 2013 at 12:00 am

Dear Editor:

I am responding to the Letter by Gary Kludt, “Farm Labor bill would hurt workers, agriculture.” I disagree strongly with Mr. Kludt. I have lived in this community for 25 years and have been working with farmworkers for 23 years. I do not see the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act as an attack on agriculture; I see it as a positive step in increasing the quality of our agricultural system.

There are long list of labor law exclusions that effect farmworkers. As the labor protections for all other workers were put in place, farmworkers were excluded. The agricultural industry argued that since farms hired family, they weren’t workers. Our agricultural system is far from the family farms they were talking about. This bill is important because it will help the thousands of farm workers in New York State attain basic human rights that most workers take for granted such as: overtime pay, one day off per week, collective bargaining rights, restrictions on child labor, disability and unemployment insurance, safe working conditions, and sanitation standards. Such legislation is much needed as 60 percent of New York’s farm workers make less than minimum wage, nearly one-third of them work at least 60-hour weeks, and the statistics go on. Such worker conditions are obviously unacceptable.

Farmworkers are involved in working for change in agriculture, but I actually don’t need farmworkers to be present to feel justified in working for change. I live in this community. I am impacted by our major industry being one whose workforce is people who live in poverty. Poverty negatively impacts health, learning in young children, the quality of one’s life and so much more. We deserve a food system that does not create such difficult working and living conditions for the workers.

Our current laws support large agri-business. Large farmers in our community live well, and are incredibly resourceful individuals. I trust that they will be able to maintain their businesses if their employees get the same rights other workers do. I was in Albany when we were fighting for farmworkers to have the right to have port-a-potties in the fields like construction workers do. Farmers said it would cost too much. They figured it out and they are still in business. We have many industries that operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Agriculture will be able to figure it out how to get through harvest season.

I believe it is time for farmworkers to be treated equally; they are too valuable to our community and our economy to be treated inequitably. I hope that many of you will be inspired to call your representative in support of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.

Betty Garcí­a Mathewson
Albion, NY