NYS Dairy Farmworkers Secure Victories in Health and Safety Enforcement

Congressman Richard Hanna’s attempt to let unsafe workplaces off the hook by asking OSHA not to do its job is denied: Dairy worker leaders organize to ensure that inspections will start July 1, 2014 and be renewed a second year

             The NYS Dairy Workers’ Organizing Campaign is proud to announce that dairy farmworkers have won several victories in their fight for the most fundamental human right: the right to stay alive. Last week, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Director David Michaels wrote a letter to Congressman Richard Hanna denying Hanna’s request to indefinitely delay, surprise – random inspections of dairy farms in NYS, a component of the OSHA Local Emphasis Program (LEP). In the letter, Michaels wrote: “The LEP was initially scheduled to take effect in October 2013, and OSHA delayed the start date to July 2014… The LEP does not impose any new obligations on dairy farmers, but rather sets forth an initiative to ensure compliance with existing standards.”

Congressman Hanna has unapologetically advocated on behalf of farmers and the powerful farm bureau lobby for OSHA to back off the agricultural industry in New York State. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in, and dairy farms represent the largest sector of New York’s thriving agricultural industry, with profits soaring 18% in 2013 according to the Albany Times Union. As dairy production ramps up to meet the demand for milk that new dairy processing plants across the state require, workers have increasingly been exposed to dangerous working conditions. Since 2006, there have been 55 work-related fatalities on NYS dairy farms, an alarmingly high rate by any standard. “We come to this country to work hard, and make a life for ourselves. Not to lose it” said farmworker Salvador Peralta. The Workers’ Center of Central New York and the Worker Justice Center of New York applaud OSHA for pursuing the planned inspections.

On April 2nd a preliminary meeting was arranged for Mr. Hanna to meet at his Binghamton office with dairy farm workers and their allies. It was explained by Terre Dennis, Mr. Hanna’s Binghamton representative that, “these things take time.” During the week of May 10th, Mr. Hanna’s “booker,” Ellen Cole of Utica, was contacted to “firm up” the meeting. At this time we were informed that the meeting was to be sometime in late August or later! To put it mildly we were stunned. Our junior high school civics classes taught us about representative government, about how politicians are the servants of the people, etc.

Mr. Hanna taught us something new: dairy workers aren’t Mr. Hanna’s “kind of people.” In fact, Mr. Hanna regularly meets the people he represents in Binghamton, and that, apparently, is not us.           Mr. Hanna’s kind are Lockheed Martin who, that same week, split $1.26 billion with Sikorsky while Lockheed’s neighbors in Tioga County learned that their Head Start program was slashed and that their food pantry was far short of their projected need for year. More recently, Mr. Hanna supported the Tioga County Industrial Development Agency in a deal to give Lockheed Martin a $1.1 million break on sales tax.

Dairy farmworkers are often made invisible to the public and left out of the images that promote farming in America. That is why the NYS Dairy Worker Organizing Campaign held a statewide speaking tour this month, visiting over 13 cities, and speaking out at 28 events. Dairy farmworker Jose Cañas’s heartfelt, charismatic and courageous testimonies to the public were profound and moving, inspiring hundreds of NYS residents to take action to support our work as well as gain a deeper understanding of how dairy farmworkers live and work. Cañas said: “We, as farmworkers, value our bosses and know that it is because of them that we have a job. We would only hope that our bosses understand that this goes both ways—that without his workers, his business would not operate at all.”

If you are a dairy farm worker, or an ally who wants to do something about the dangerous, unsafe, and illegal working conditions –                 Call 607-238-8109 to get involved.




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