“If I’m shaking, it’s because I’ve been drinking coffee for 38 hours,” said Dick Iannuzzi, president of NYSUT, who was closing in on the end of his participation in the 40-hour fast sponsored by the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition. The purpose of the fast was to draw attention to rampant injustices in the farmworker industry, and to promote an increase of the state’s minimum wage.
Iannuzzi, co-chair of the coalition, spoke first at a press conference Thursday morning in the Legislative Office Building in Albany. He met with lawmakers, social justice activists and union leaders to promote passage of the Farm Worker Fair Labor Act and to announce lesson plans about the plight of farmworkers through the Speak Truth to Power program.
He then joined coalition co-chair Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Albany Diocese to take part in an Interfaith Prayer Service to close the 40-Hour Fast for Worker Justice at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul in capital city.
Bishop Hubbard led faith leaders from Jewish, Protestant and Catholic religions, along with supporters of the fast, in collective prayers for world peace, community, compassion and renewal. He prayed for worker justice and for “an end to the growing income inequality” in this country.
“We need tot think about who we are and what our priorities are,” said Iannuzzi. “We have a minimum wage that keeps families under the poverty line.”
Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, told the group how, as a child and as a parent, she has invoked the same prayer before meals: “Thank you God for this good food and for the hands that made it.”
The hands that handle that food today belong to farmworkers who need often protection and advocacy for humane working conditions. Kennedy, who joined the fast this week, said her father, the former New York senator, broke his fast 45 years ago with Cesar Chavez — the American farmworker and civil rights icon. Kennedy traveled across New York and looked at conditions at farms; at “one of the farms he got booted out by the end of a rifle,” she said. “Forty-five years later, and these conditions have not changed. All of us have an opportunity to march with the farmers.”
“It’s hard to think of a more vulnerable people than the farmworkers and their children,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
“Fasting interrupts our day-to-day routine and forces us to stop and listen. It’s another tool to tune in and focus on the still, small voice of God,” said Sara Niccoli, director of the Labor-Religion Coalition. “It’s a time to stop filling up and to simply be. We may come to see unnecessary excess in our lives, and scarcity in the lives of others.”