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Farm worker advocates made their case before a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Monday, calling on senators to pass the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act.
The bill, which would grant farm workers a voluntary day of rest, collective bargaining protection for workers on large farms, overtime, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation passed the Assembly in June.
Librada Paz, a former farm worker, said working and living conditions on many farms are deplorable.
"We need collective bargaining to protect ourselves," she said.
Kerry Kennedy, a human rights activist and founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights described conditions she witnessed at a foie gras farm.
"Farm labor has never received the rights most workers take for granted," she said. "Now is the time to rectify this injustice."
Albany Roman Catholic Bishop Howard Hubbard and NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, co-chairs of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, a faith-based organization devoted to economic justice, testified before the committee.
"Ten years ago I appeared to give testimony for farm workers and the issues largely remain the same," Hubbard told the senators. "The state's policy is that the same standard of human dignity and rights does not apply to farm workers.
Iannuzzi said the legislation would help find the balance between the needs of employers and the rights of workers. The statewide union is sensitive to the difficult times farmers face in the current economy, Iannuzzi said. "However, NYSUT does not accept that those real economic ideas should be addressed through the continued exploitation of their workers."
The Labor-Religion Coalition on Monday also kicked off its 15th annual 40-hour fast, which this year focuses on farm worker rights, immigrant rights and victims of wage theft.