The Workers’ Center of Central New York and other plaintiffs say they’re planning to appeal a decision on a case that challenged the state’s collective bargaining law to include farmworkers. A judge in Albany dismissed the case filed by the NYCLU on behalf of a dairy farm worker who was fired for trying to organize.
Crispin Hernandez filed suit in 2016 after he had gathered his co-workers after work hours in his personal residence to discuss what he calls deplorable workplace and living conditions. He says Mark’s farm in Lowville intimidated the workers with dogs and police before firing them.
"It's very important because people can learn and realize that agricultural workers are excluded from basic rights like the right to organize, the right to overtime pay, and the right to a day off a week," he said through an interpreter.
Attorney Brian Butler represented the New York Farm Bureau in the case. The group intervened as a defendant when Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to defend the case.
"There's a statute...the State Employment Relations Act, that excludes farmworkers from the right to collectively bargain. What they were challenging here was that statute."
Butler says it’s up to the legislature and governor to determine if farmworkers have the right to organize, not the court. He says workplace safety and conditions had nothing to do with the complaint.
"If this was a case about Mr. Hernandez being injured on the job, there would be other statutes and laws that would come into play to address that."
Indeed, Hernandez says he and others have been injured by cattle, or machinery they were never trained to use. Workers’ Center lead organizer Rebecca Fuentes believes there is a legal foundation for their case.
"In the [state] constitution, there's no exclusion. That's the basis of our lawsuit. There's no exclusion of any workers from the protected right to collectively bargain in New York State."
She and Hernandez say organizing will give the workers a unified voice to advocate for dignity and respect.