The road to fairness for farmworkers starts in Suffolk County.
“Farmworkers are the most important workers in every country because they’re the ones producing the food for the country.”
This May 15 through June 1, a coalition of farmworkers and allies in New York is marching to draw attention to the unequal standing of farmworkers under labor law. While workers in all industries currently face more barriers than ever in realizing their labor rights, farmworkers have less recourse under the law. In the 1930s when the Fair Labor Standards Act passed into Law, farmworkers and domestic workers were left behind. Their exclusion was not an accident. Senators and Congressmen, mostly Democrats from the South, spoke openly on the floor about not wanting the two industries primarily composed of the children and grandchildren of slaves to have the same rights as white workers. To this day, the majority of states have not passed laws to remove exclusions, which include the rights for overtime pay, a day of rest, and collective bargaining.
“The owners of the farm are the landlords — the owners of the housing,” Boris Martinez, a farmworker from a nursery in Patchogue, said through translator Katia Chapman in a phone interview Tuesday. Martinez is from El Salvador and has worked at the nursery for about two years, he said. “The owners only care that the housing is okay when inspection is going to come. They don’t care what state the housing is in, what condition the housing is in. It’s most likely that there will be at least 10 people living there.”
“None of the workers are paid overtime pay. None of us have health insurance and if we get sick we don’t have the resources to pay for basic medical care. I know a lot of other workers in the area and none of them are paid overtime pay. Many of us don’t have a day of rest either. I’m right now working about 60 hours a week but when the weather warms up I’ll probably be working 67 or 68 hours.”
“Those in power, they don’t care how we’re doing as workers, what they care about is the money that we’re producing for them.”
“I’m participating in the march because even though, as I said, I like my job, I also see my friends, my companions that they are not always treated well,” Jose Ventura, a farmworker from Guatemala, said in a phone interview Tuesday through Chapman as a translator. “On their farms they’re not always paid fairly. There’s a lot of Guatemalan farmworkers and some of them are mistreated in the job and while I feel that this march is for the benefit of my people, therefore I feel motivated to be a part of the movement.”