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Farmworkers Across CNY and Upstate Claim Victory After Court Ruling; NY Farm Bureau Calls Foul

Scott Willis

Farmworkers in Central New York and across the state are claiming victory after a state appellate court ruled Thursday that they have a constitutionally protected right to organize.  Crispin Hernandez filed suit in 2016 after he had gathered his co-workers after work hours in his personal residence to discuss workplace and living conditions. 

He says Mark’s farm in Lowville intimidated the workers with dogs and police before firing them.  Hernandez says through an interpreter that they now have a voice.

"We have a lot of workplace abuse, like wage theft, bad housing, farm owners not giving necessary training to workers, and there's a lot of accidents because agriculture is very dangerous work.  This is important because this is a tool for workers to organize and collectively fight for better conditions at their workplace."

Syracuse attorney Brian Butler represents the New York Farm Bureau, which plans to appeal the decision.  He says it seems the court’s majority ignored 80 years of constitutional and statutory precedent.


"The court is equating collective bargaining with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to vote...rights we've come to know as fundamental.  But economic legislation like this has never been afforded that status.  This debate needs to be had in the legislature.  The court should not be making policy determinations, only issues of law."

There is legislation being debated in Albany that would address collective bargaining for farmworkers.  Butler says the decision by the appellate court deprived the Farm Bureau of answering the complaint and litigating the issue in a trial court. 

In a statment, Farm Bureau President David Fisher says if the legislature and the courts do not recognize the value of preserving a viable and sustainable food production system, the state's agriculture will continue to shrink under a "mountain of mandates."  He adds that New Yorkers will find it harder to access locally grown food, relying on food from other states or countries to feed their families.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at