State Court: Farmworkers Have Right to Unionize

Workers harvesting grapes in a local vineyard in 2017. (File photo by Peter Blasl via RiverheadLOCAL)

A state appeals court has ruled that farmworkers have the right to organize and collectively bargain, reports RiverheadLOCAL’s Denise Civiletti.

In a 4-1 decision, an Appellate Division panel ruled “unconstitutional as a matter of law” the exclusion of farmworkers in the state labor law provisions granting employees the right to organize and bargain collectively.

The plaintiff, Crispin Hernandez, was fired from his job as a dairy worker in upstate Lowville in 2015 after his boss saw him meeting after work with co-workers and human rights organizers to discuss workplace conditions, according to the complaint brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented Hernandez in the lawsuit he brought against the state in 2016.

The New York Constitution, adopted in 1938, grants workers the right to organize and collectively bargain, but the State Employment Relations Act, adopted in 1937, exempted farmworkers from those rights.

The ruling reverses a decision by an Albany County trial court which had granted the New York Farm Bureau’s motion to dismiss the case. The bureau had intervened in support of the exemption after the state chose not to defend the lawsuit.

Go to RiverheadLOCAL for excerpts from the decision and for reaction from the Farm Bureau, which according to the president “fully intends to” appeal, and from the Long Island Farm Bureau, whose administrative director spoke about the impact on farmers and agriculture as a whole. Also see details on pending state legislation that would give additional rights to farmworkers.

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