To the editor: Re: Farmworker union will put family farms out of business (Commentary)

As someone descended from farmers, I “get it” about the difficulty of making a living on a true family farm.

I also agree with the Farm Bureau president, Dean Norton, when he says that agriculture work needs to be improved for all, with competitive wages and safe (and healthy) workplaces. My “all” includes the people who milk the cows, plant and collect the produce, etc. Farm owners and corporations can’t get the work done without them.

There is no reason why those working on farms should have to live with different “rules” than other workers. It’s a romantic myth that farms are “special”, and therefore worthy of being exempted from laws applying to other employers. It ignores the reality of modern farms, many with round-the-clock mechanized operations. (See The agrarian myth and policy responses to farm safety at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1614759/.)

Elsewhere in the world, farm workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively (which does not always involve a union), to overtime, days off, health and safety and workers’ compensation coverage, etc., whatever the farm size. Farms still operate successfully in these places where society recognizes the human right for workers to have a collective voice, rather than a powerless individual one.

The lawsuit brought by Crispin Hernandez only deals with the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively. The other rights are separate legal issues, which also need to be addressed.

Why does the labor relations law treat farm workers differently than other workers? There’s no rational reason. Why should it be okay to expect “quality employees” to work every day of the week, or not get paid overtime? What kind of a society or organization condones that kind of expectation and treatment?

All workers need to be treated with respect, and provided with healthy and safe jobs, especially when they are essential parts of the food systems that sustains us. Despite what the Farm Bureau says, it is NOT happening.

Independent studies and reports continue to confirm that working on a farm is hazardous to your health, safety and, sometimes, life. Reported injuries and deaths reflect high rates of death on the job, injuries for “crop workers”, and scary numbers of deaths and injuries for young people under the age of 20. It’s happening in New York State and around the country.

Despite this, OSHA is not allowed to even investigate if someone is killed or injured on a farm with less than 11 workers (excluding family members). It’s thanks to a rider attached to the federal Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill since 1976, promoted by the Farm Bureau and others.

It’s past time to start preventing the hazards of farm work and upholding the rights of farm workers in the state and nation, so that our food is produced with less exploitation, abuse, injuries, diseases and deaths. Enforcing the NYS constitution is a small step in that direction. Overtime, days off and fair pay are some of the next ones that the state government needs to take.                                                               Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                Dorothy Wigmore  – East Syracuse, NY

 

 

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