Farmworkers Urge Albany to Pass Fair Labor Act

Guatemala-born José Ventura, who works on a farm in New York, is asking Albany to approve a benefits law. (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)

José Ventura has lived in New York for 10 years, and has spent the last five working on a Long Island farm. There, he plants crops and cuts trees every day from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon for a salary of $600 per week, but he has no vacation time, benefits or workers’ rights to protect him. For this reason, he joined activists and other workers on Thursday to ask the State Legislature to finally approve a law that has been stalled in Albany.

“Everyone has their goals in this country and, even though I want to go back home soon, it seems fair to me that politicians in this state approve the farmworkers’ law because we deserve the same benefits that other workers have,” said Ventura, who broke his arm last year while working and received no compensation beyond the payment of his medical expenses.

During the demonstration, which took place on the steps of New York’s City Hall, José Chapa, legislative coordinator of the Justice for Farmworkers campaign, urged the Assembly and the Senate to push the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.

“We see many political opportunities for it to be approved this year with the support of Sens. Alcantara and Peralta pushing it in the Senate, where we always have problems,” said the activist. The protest was held on labor and civil rights advocate César Chávez’s 90th birthday.

The act’s approval would grant farmworkers benefits such as one day of rest per week, overtime pay, the right to unionize, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation, and would extend the state’s disability law to cover the industry’s employees.

José Dávila, vice president of the Hispanic Federation, said that this is the perfect moment for the State Legislature and Gov. Cuomo to demonstrate their commitment to immigrants, at a time when the “Washington rhetoric” is generating much fear and abuse.

“All these employees working on farms are decent people who come from Mexico, Central America, Puerto Rico, Haiti, mostly. They come from every country, and they have been exploited for decades. We are not looking for special treatment or favors; only for equal rights that have been taken away,” said Dávila.

For her part, Sen. Marisol Alcantara, one of the law’s promoters, said that it is unfair for the benefits and rights of farmworkers to continue to be neglected, particularly when they help large companies in the state to consolidate their economic power.

“Working on a farm is hard. It involves heavy physical labor with dangerous machinery, and many workers get hurt or even die on the job. Farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, have no protection against that,” said the legislator, pointing out that more than 76 percent of the over 80,000 farmworkers are Hispanic.

Alcantara added that New York has an extremely profitable, $4.7-billion agricultural industry that includes some of the country’s main milk, wine and apple producers, which makes it fair for its workers to be treated with respect.

“If we give workers dignity and solid living conditions, they will be able to put down roots, support their families and have a shot at the ‘American dream,’” concluded Alcantara.


  • New York state’s farms employ between 80,000 and 100,000 workers.
  • 76 percent of them are Hispanic.
  • Most of the workers come from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Jamaica and Haiti.
  • They work in the so-called “green farms,” dairy farms, duck farms and apple and tree plantations.

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