Category Archives: Workers Rights

Can My Boss Do That?/ Mi Jefe Puede Hacer Eso?

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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.

Can My Boss Do That?

Save the Date

Date: June 8 2018

Time: 12pm-2pm

Place: 2013 E. Genesee St Syracuse Ny 13210

Bosses Stealing your Tips?

Unsafe Working Conditions?

Not Getting Overtime Pay?

Stolen Wages?

Hurt on the Job?

Come learn and share about your experiences with other workers! Hosted by the Workers’ by the Workers’ Center of Central New York, more details coming soon!

Please RSVP by 05/28/18

How to RSVP: call Kayla Kelechian (315) 385-9874, the Workers’ Center of Central New York (315) 218-5708 or email kkelechian@workerscentercny.org

Please notify us if you will be needing interpretation or childcare services

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

May Day Festival!

When: Tuesday May 1, 2018 11:00am-1:00pm

Where: Perseverance Park, Syracuse NY

Join us for a celebration of May Day, the International Workers’ Day! We will gather for speakers, music, and food.

Groups of workers are divided and exploited in various ways, but we are all a part of the same struggle. How can we fight back in the workplace to win better working conditions? We can learn from workers of the past and present who have fought and won!
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Accessibility info: This event will be in Spanish and English. ASL interpretation will be provided. The park is accessible by wheelchair. Please refrain from wearing fragrances and smoking near the event space. Children welcome. Please post or message the page with any accommodations questions or requests.

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¡Únete a nosotros para una celebración del Primero de Mayo, el Día Internacional de los Trabajadores! Nos reuniremos para oradores, música y comida.

Los grupos de trabajadores se dividen y explotan de diversas maneras, pero todos somos parte de la misma lucha. ¿Cómo podemos luchar en el lugar de trabajo para ganar mejores condiciones de trabajo? ¡Podemos aprender de los trabajadores del pasado y del presente que han luchado y ganado!
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Nota: abstenerse de fumar cerca o usar fragancias. Esto hará que el espacio sea más seguro para aquellos con sensibilidades químicas.
Información de accesibilidad: Este evento será en español e inglés. Se proporcionará interpretación de ASL. El parque es accesible en silla de ruedas.

Link to Facebook Event Here

Work for Tips? Testify to End Tipped Wage

When: April 30, 2018 8:45-2:00pm

Where: The Gateway Center 1 Forestry Dr SUNY-ESF Syracuse

The TCWC is excited to hear of the NYS Dept of Labor Wage Board Hearings across New York on potentially ELIMINATING the sub-minimum wage for those who work for tips throughout the State.

The proposal would not eliminate tipping itself, rather the tipped wage.

One of the first hearings will be held in Syracuse on Monday, April 30th, at 10 a.m. [A rally and news conference will begin at 8:45 a.m.] The TCWC intends to turn out in force to this hearing, ESPECIALLY with workers who presently receive the tipped minimum wage, as well as with workers who PREVIOUSLY have worked in a tipped profession. Believe us: if we and you don’t testify, industry sure will.

May Day Outreach!

Please join us for outreach downtown for our May day event! We will meet at the Workers’ Center of CNY at the address provided to hand out flyers and engage with the public. We hope to see you there!

Where: Workers’ Center 2013 E. Genesee St

When: April 27, 2018 at 12:00pm

Work for Tips? Testify to End Tipped Wage

The Workers’ Center of Central NY is excited to hear of the NYS Dept of Labor Wage Board Hearings across New York on potentially ELIMINATING the sub-minimum wage for those who work for tips throughout the State.

The proposal would not eliminate tipping itself, rather the tipped wage.

One of the first hearings will be held in Syracuse on Monday, April 30th, at 10 a.m. [A rally and news conference will begin at 8:45 a.m.] The WCCNY along with the Tompkins County Workers Center intends to turn out in force to this hearing, ESPECIALLY with workers who presently receive the tipped minimum wage, as well as with workers who PREVIOUSLY have worked in a tipped profession. Believe us: if we and you don’t testify, industry sure will.

Read more about why the restaurant industry’s two-tiered wage system is broken. From the One Fair Wage Campaign:

Due to the lobbying power of the National Restaurant Association and Fortune 500 restaurant corporations, the restaurant industry is one of the only industries that gets away, in 43 states, with not paying the great majority of people who work in restaurants — servers, bussers, hosts, bartenders — at least the minimum wage.

  • Since the restaurant industry does not pay its servers the minimum wage, servers are forced to rely on tips as their wage. Their employer gives them as little as $2.13 an hour (the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991), and then takes out taxes. This leaves them with $0 paychecks, obviously insufficient to pay rent or put food on the table for their families.
  • Although employers are legally required to “top off” the pay of a person who works for tips if don’t add up to at least the minimum wage, enforcement is so lax and disorganized that wage theft has reached epidemic levels.
  • The restaurant industry includes 7 of the 10 lowest paying jobs in the country. In fact, people who work in the industry are twice as likely to need food stamps than the rest of the US workforce, and three times as likely to live in poverty.
  • Seventy percent of people who work in the restaurant industry are women. Since a living base wage is not guaranteed, and women are instead forced to depend on tips, they frequently have to put up with sexual harassment from customers, co-workers, and management. The EEOC has targeted the restaurant industry as the single largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women with a rate FIVE TIMES higher than any other industry.

Please send us an email at wccny@workerscentercny.org if you would like to take part in the hearing. Facebook event page here
You can also call 315-218-5708

For other hearings dates and locations click here .

 

 

Update on Lawsuit Fighting for Protected Right to Organize for Farmworkers

On January 16th, the Albany County Supreme Court dismissed our challenge to a Jim Crow-era state law that denies farmworkers the right to organize without fear of retaliation.  As plaintiff and WCCNY organizer, Crispin Hernandez said “With the help of God and all of our supporters, we will change the conditions that we deal with as farmworkers and we will keep pushing to be treated like human beings.”  According to WCCNY organizer, Rebecca, the judge’s “decision is a slap in the face for workers like Crispin Hernandez who have to live under threat and intimidation from employers and law enforcement.” Not only will we be appealing the judge’s decision, but we will continue fighting so that farmworkers will build power in the workplace and change their working and living conditions and the industry as a whole!

We Will Keep Pushing To Be Treated Like Human Beings!

Worker’s Center of CNY – Contact: Rebecca Fuentes 315.657.6799 rfuentes@workerscentercny.org

Worker Justice Center of NY – Contact: Carly Fox 518.500.9409    cfox@wjcny.org

 

Court Rules Against Organizing Rights for Farmworkers, Advocates Plan Appeal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 16, 2018 – The Albany County Supreme Court today dismissed a challenge to a Jim Crow-era state law that denies farmworkers the right to organize without fear of retaliation. 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, plan to appeal the decision.

Under the New York Constitution, all workers have a right to organize and collectively bargain. Yet a more than 80-year-old law known as the Employment Relations Act includes a carve-out from these protections for farmworkers. The law reflects the segregationist politics of the Depression Era during which it was passed, when farmworkers were predominantly black.

Plaintiff Crispin Hernandez was fired from one of New York’s largest dairies, Marks Farms LLC in Lowville, after his employer saw him meeting with coworkers and an organizer to discuss workplace conditions. The meeting took place after work hours and in a worker’s personal residence. Hernandez had been working 12-hour shifts six days a week at Mark’s Farms since he was a teenager, but he lost both his job and his home.

When the plaintiffs filed suit in May of 2016, both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman publicly agreed that the excluding farmworkers from the right to organize conflicts with the state constitution. Both declined to defend the lawsuit in court. In response, the New York Farm Bureau requested that the court allow it to intervene to defend the law as a party in the case. The plaintiffs and the NYCLU did not object to the Farm Bureau’s motion to intervene, allowing the matter to be resolved in the state courts.

“I am disappointed with today’s decision, but we will continue fighting for a victory,” said plaintiff Crispin Hernandez. “With the help of God and all of our supporters, we will change the conditions that we deal with as farmworkers and we will keep pushing to be treated like human beings.”

“It’s a shame that the judge has decided to continue the Jim Crow era exclusion of Farmworkers from the protected right to organize,” said Rebecca Fuentes, lead organizer at the Workers’ Center of Central New York, a plaintiff in the case. “Today’s decision is a slap in the face for workers like Crispin Hernandez who have to live under threat and intimidation from employers and law enforcement.”

Farming is a multi-billion-dollar industry in New York, yet farmworkers often earn wages well below the poverty level. Many live in overcrowded labor camps with sweatshop-like conditions, contending with infestations of rats, cockroaches and bed bugs, and no regular access to transportation. Farmworkers are excluded from workplace protections afforded to nearly all other workers, including a day of rest, overtime pay, disability insurance and the right to organize without retaliation.

Farmworkers operate dangerous machinery at grueling rates and use toxic chemicals, often without enough training. Their fatality rate is 20 times that of the average worker in New York. Some report working 95 hours a week. Most are racial minorities who do not speak English, and as many as 75 percent are undocumented, a fact supervisors use to intimidate them into silence.

“While we are disappointed with Judge McNally’s ruling today, we are steadfast in our resolve to continue our fight through the courts,” said Carly Fox, senior worker Rights Advocate at the Worker Justice Center of New York, a plaintiff in the case. “We know that, ultimately, we stand on the side of justice and we won’t stop until we win, simply because the workers we serve are depending on it. When we are out in the field, hearing from farmworkers about the dangerous conditions on farms, depressed wages, grueling hours and unsanitary and sub-standard employer-provided housing, we know that the best resource workers have is their unity. The Worker Justice Center of New York will fight for equality for farmworkers until it is won.”

“Because of an outdated law, the people we rely on for the food in our kitchens are condemned to poverty, abuse and even death,” said NYCLU senior staff attorney and lead counsel on the case Erin Beth Harrist. “We will appeal this ruling and continue to fight this law, which violates our constitution and our state’s commitment to human rights.”

“We will not rest until farmworkers are free to organize and have a voice in their working conditions,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Today’s decision will not deter us from making sure that farmworkers enjoy the same basic rights as every other hardworking New Yorker.”

In addition to Harrist, NYCLU staff on the case include Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg, associate legal director Christopher Dunn, staff attorney Jordan Wells, staff attorney Aadhithi Padmanabhan, and paralegal Andrea Barrientos.