Category Archives: Dairy Workers

Our fight for the protected right to organize continues!

May 10, 2016 Filling of lawsuit in Albany NY

June 19, 2018 ALBANY NY– Plaintiffs Crispin Hernandez, the Workers’ Center of Central New York, and the Worker Justice Center of New York, who are represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed an appeal late Monday in a case challenging a Jim Crow-era New York law that denies farmworkers the right to organize without fear of retaliation. The lawsuit challenges the exclusion of farmworkers from the State Employment Relations Act, which protects the labor rights of virtually all other private sector workers.
Crispin Hernandez was fired from one of New York’s largest dairies,
Marks Farms LLC in Lowville, after his employer saw him meeting with co-workers and an organizer to discuss workplace conditions, even though it was after work hours and in a worker’s home. Hernandez, who had been working 12-hour shifts for six days a week at Mark’s Farms since he was a teenager, lost his job and his home. He filed suit with the support of the two worker centers and the NYCLU to ensure that farmworkers across New York have the same rights as all other workers.
“Today is an important day for farmworkers who have been fighting to be treated justly. Without farmworkers and our labor, New Yorkers wouldn’t have fruits or vegetables to put on their dinner table,” said Mr. Hernandez. “We deserve to be treated like human beings, without fear of retaliation.”
In January, the Albany County Supreme Court granted a motion to dismiss the case. Mr. Hernandez and the two workers centers contend to the appellate division of the Third Department that the exclusion of farmworkers violates the rights to organize, equal protection and due process under the New York Constitution.
“Farmworkers make essential contributions to New York State and to all of our lives. Their labor produces the food, nutrition, and money that sustain our economy and our communities,” said Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York. “It’s a shame the state excludes them from one of our most important protections: the right to collectively bargain without fear.”
Unlike other workers in New York State, farmworkers have long been excluded from the right to organize for better pay, benefits and workplace conditions without fear of retaliation. The State Employment Relations Act, passed in 1937, incorporated the federal New Deal Era-protections for workers into state law. However, in doing so, the state law created a carve-out for farmworkers, the majority of whom were black at the time, that legislators used as a compromise to get the votes of segregationist members of Congress. This exclusion now applies to farmworkers in New York today, who are, for the most part, immigrant workers. This lawsuit seeks to eliminate that carve-out and grant farmworkers the same rights as other workers to advocate for themselves in the workplace.
“Farmworkers whom we depend on to put food on our tables deserve to be treated humanely and with dignity like any other hardworking New Yorker,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “New York must end this outdated, racist policy from the Jim Crow-era, and treat farmworkers fairly and equally.”
Even though farming in New York is a multi-billion dollar industry, farmworkers often earn wages well below the poverty level, and many live in overcrowded labor camps and toil under sweatshop-like conditions. The combination of poverty, isolation, and lack of permanent legal status and language access makes farmworkers among the most exploited groups in the American labor force.
“There is simply no justification for depriving farmworkers of the basic right to organize,” said Carly Fox, an advocate with the Workers Justice Center of New York. “For many decades, each time farmworkers and their allies have advocated for much-needed changes to laws governing their labor rights, the Farm Bureau has used its power and influence to lobby New York lawmakers to preserve the status quo and leave farmworkers in a position of vulnerability. Justice is clearly on the side of the farmworkers, and we will keep fighting until we win full equal rights.”
When the plaintiffs initially filed suit in May of 2016, both the Governor Andrew Cuomo and then Attorney General Eric Schneiderman publicly agreed that excluding farmworkers from the right to organize conflicts with the state constitution. Both declined to defend the lawsuit in court. However, the New York Farm Bureau requested that the court allow it to intervene to defend the law as a party in the case. In January, the State Supreme Court dismissed the case, in a brief opinion that offered little analysis of the core arguments.
“The court ruled that farmworkers do not have a constitutional right to organize, despite the very clear language in the New York Constitution giving all employees the right to organize,” said Erin Beth Harrist, lead counsel and senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “Allowing this racist exclusion that continues to leave farmworkers unprotected in New York goes against our values and our laws.”
The New York State Attorney General’s office and the New York Farm Bureau are expected to file briefs regarding the appeal in the coming weeks.

Marks Farms fined after fatality

Marks Farms in Lowville NY has been fined nearly $25,000 after a worker died there last November.

On December of 2017 we wrote an op ed to bring attention to the history of disregard for worker’s health and safety and violations of other workers rights at this farm.

The fine it’s in connection with the death of 32 year old Ryan Ouellette. He died while working on Marks Farms just outside Lowville.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, cited the farm for 3 serious violations involving the safe operation and guarding of farm machinery and fined it nearly $25,000.

We demand that Marks Farms is not given any chance to reduce the fines (a common practice known as the “OSHA discount”) and that immediately eliminate any dangerous conditions and provide training and workplace protections to all workers to prevent more fatalities and injustices. All workers deserve safe and healthy conditions to make sure they come back to their families after work.

Another tragedy at Marks Dairy Farm in Lowville, NY

http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/news04/marks-farms-worker-dies-from-injuries-suffered-in-farm-accident-20171120

Another tragedy at Marks Dairy Farm in Lowville, NY

Dairy farms can be a dangerous workplace. Between 2006 and 2015, there have been 69 dairy farm fatalities, according to data compiled by the New York state Department of Health.

We wrote this op-ed to review the history of labor abuse at this farm, and why maybe this fatality was preventable.

By Carly Fox and Rebecca Fuentes | Special to Syracuse.com

We didn’t personally know Ryan C. Ouellette, the dairy worker who was killed in a tragic workplace “accident” Nov. 19, 2017, at Marks Farm, a factory farm on the southern border of the Adirondacks in Lowville, but we are deeply saddened by his death. Ouellette died after his head became trapped in a manure separator machine. This tragedy occurred on the eve of our nation’s day to give thanks for food and family. Despite years of efforts by farmworkers and advocates to improve health and safety conditions at Marks Farm, dairy farmworkers continue to be exposed to significant risks of injury and death that are ultimately preventable.

Continue reading

Syracuse Rapid Response Team Meeting 10/12

The Syracuse Rapid Response Team will be meeting at the Worker’s Center Thursday, October 12 at 6:30pm.

At the end of September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted ruthless raids over the course of 4 days, which resulted in over 500 immigrants being rounded up. This specific raid–disgustingly called “Operation Safe Cities”– was specifically targeted towards sanctuary cities. The Trump Administration’s unrelenting attacks on immigrants demonstrates the importance of our Rapid Response Team. Please join us at the next meeting this Thursday. Becoming a member of the Syracuse Rapid Response team is a concrete way you can be in solidarity with immigrant members of our community. Come to the meeting and a bring a friend!

Support for Dolores & Family

Workers’ Center of CNY board member, community organizer & leader, and mother Dolores Bustamante has just experienced the devastating loss of her son. This is an extremely difficult time for Dolores and her family and we want to show them as much support as possible. In her recent fights to resist deportation, she has shown a tremendous amount of courage and bravery. Many of us have been deeply moved and inspired by her commitment to immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, and women’s rights. Let us all donate and encourage others to donate and support her and her family in the wake of such an earth shattering loss. Estamos con Dolores!

Link to Fundraiser Here

WCCNY is hiring!!!

We are very excited to be growing our staff and capacity here at the WCCNY. We are looking to bring on a new part-time organizer to conduct outreach, support membership development, build organizational capacity, and develop and lead strategic campaigns for workplace and economic justice! Check out the full description and qualifications here. If you think you would be a great fit or know someone else who would be a great fit please send your cover letter and resume with “Organizer Position” as email subject to Gretchen Purser, chair of the board at gpurser@workerscentercny.org and Nikeeta Slade, organizer at nslade@workerscentercny.org. Please be sure to include the names and contact information of two people willing to serve as references. Application deadline is October 6, 2017.

9/25/17: Farmworker Solidarity Housing Meeting

Monday, Sept. 25th at 6pm, Workers’ Center
This will be the second meeting of allies who are committed to finding short and long term housing solutions for farmworkers. There will be updates and report backs from the last meeting as well as continuing to march forward with plans to provide real solidarity to farmworkers organizing against and speaking out against injustice. Please email Nikeeta at nslade@workerscentercny.org if you will be joining us as this next meeting!

Chobani Meeting Update!

The past couple of months, many of you have written messages to Chobani urging them to meet with us to talk about our MILKED report.  We are excited to report that a few weeks ago, on August. 18th, we met with representatives from Chobani and discussed our MILKED report which details the conditions that workers face on dairy farms. Worker-leaders shared powerful testimonies about the preventable deaths and injuries, wage theft, retaliation against workers for speaking out, and other pressing issues. This meeting is the beginning of what we hope is an on-going dialogue to address the systemic abuses and exploitation in the dairy industry. We thank you all for all of your support, whether it was sending messages, circulating the report, or attending the rally in front of Chobani in New York City. Thanks and we will continue to keep you all updated!

Update on Slocum House

Immigrant farmworkers and allies celebrating the recovery of $7000 in stolen wages for Fernando and the stop of the unjust eviction of farmworkers from Slocum House. Sí se puede!

Slocum House Victory
Yesterday, our friends with the Radical Education Collective (REC) held a rally calling on Jail Ministry Director Keith Cieplicki  and co-founder Bill Cuddy to not evict farmworkers living in Slocum House. We are ecstatic to announce that after another amazing display of powerful collective action, Bill Cuddy (founder of Jail Ministries in Syracuse) announced that he will allow immigrants to stay indefinitely.  The rally in front of Slocum House featured energetic chanting and farmworkers and community allies stressing the importance of why access to housing is so essential to immigrant workers who are fighting for dignity and respect. Fernando’s victory is a true testament to the heartening organizing farmworkers are able to participate in and lead when they have access to housing. In the span of two days, we have seen and demonstrated that collective action continues to get the goods! Thank you so much for standing with the Farmworkers being evicted from Slocum house and the Workers’ Center of CNY. Your solidarity and your presence made a difference! You can read the REC’s full statement here.

Message from Rebecca:

Dear all, thank you so much for standing with the Farmworkers being evicted from Slocum house and the Workers’ Center of CNY. Your solidarity and your presence made a difference. Thanks to all of you we won and indefinite stay for the workers at the house, so there is no more eviction notice for now, of course this only happened because we all did this together and showed up. We Bill Cuddy to document this decision in writing because of our past interactions with Jail Ministry and Slocum House.

We continue to advocated for the house to be a true ongoing sanctuary for Farmworkers and not to be converted to offices for A Tiny Home for Good.

We know true friends in solidarity and Farmworkers will come together to make true sanctuary in Syracuse. No ban, no wall, sanctuary for ALL.

Solidarity Rally with Evicted Farmworkers!

We are calling on ALL community members that support immigrant farmworkers fighting for dignity and respect to attend this action. The time is NOW!

On July 27th, Workers’ Center member Fernando led a rally and campaign to retrieve his stole wages from Frazee Farms in Fabius, NY. We are extremely proud to report and celebrate a victory in this campaign! On Aug. 14th, Fernando received a check for $7,167.81. In his demand letter to the employer he initially demanded $8,000 but after negotiations, agreed on the $7,167. Time and time again, we see that collective action gets the goods!

Fernando’s story also demonstrates why having access to housing is absolutely essential for farmworkers who are organizing and taking risks. Fernando was fired from the farm because he was sick and unable to go to work. Homeless and with no job, Fernando was on the verge of taking a bus to Texas, where he knew absolutely no one. Luckily, because farmworkers who are standing up for justice and organizing have had a place to stay at Slocum House, he was able to lead this victorius campaign to get back the wages that were stolen from him.

Unfortunately, the solidarity that farmworkers thought they were being extended was not solidarity at all but charity, and it has unjustly and abruptly come to an end. On July 27th–the same day that Fernando led this courageous campaign–Keith Cieplicki and Bill Cuddy from Slocum House and Jail Ministries, left a note under the doors of farmworkers living there, advising them to be out of the house by September 1st. with a possible extension to October 1st.

We are very saddened by Keith Cieplicki and Bill Cuddy’s decision, as well as Andrew Lunetta’s participation in this “transition” as they have called it. Syracuse, a sanctuary city, can not be the place where social justice organizations betray immigrants in this way. On behalf of the workers currently at Slocum House, as well as activists and the WCCNY, we invite you to join us to celebrate our victory with Fernando and to talk about next steps to fighting for REAL hospitality, sanctuary, and solidarity with farmworkers. #SanctuaryIsNotTemporary #DontEvictFarmworkers #SolidarityNOTCharity