May 12, 2016

Farmworkers and supporters are ready to march for justice

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
MARCH FOR FARMWORKERS JUSTICE
Caption: Activists are gearing up for the March for Farmworker Justice, May 15 - June 1. Photos courtesy ruralmigrantministry.org.

The roots are set in soil. Now the route is set, too.

With planting season waning, farm workers are on the move. The March for Farm Worker Justice will begin May 15 in Smithtown on Long Island, and end 18 days and 200 miles later at the Capitol in Albany. Students will  join them on their long path, along with union members, activists, church groups and community leaders.

Sound arduous? Not when you consider the daily toil of farmworkers typically includes seven days of work with no day off; no overtime pay; no right to collective bargaining; and a lack of bathrooms and clean water in the fields where they labor. Housing for farmworkers is often crowded, unclean and unsafe for women. They are marching for passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.

Some of the farmworkers whose stories will be told on these hot days of walking include Boris and Juan Carlos, who have worked in the nurseries and vineyards of Long Island; Berta, who has worked on the duck farms of Sullivan County, and Pablo, who farms vegetables in the Hudson Valley.

One of the leaders of the March is Librada Paz, who picked fruit and vegetables in western New York. She was honored as the 2012 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate. She's given powerful, emotional testimony before lawmakers and was featured on a NYSUT Hispanic Heritage poster.

Rural and Migrant Ministries are organizing the march. Director Richard Witt said he is hopeful about the "developing concern and commitment by a growing number of people across the state for New York's farmworkers."

The number of state senators supporting the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has been growing, Witt said, "to the point where it now appears that we are very close to having the votes to pass the bill." The march is a movement to focus this "emerging energy" to push the senate and the governor to pass the bill.

People are demanding that "a sustainable agricultural system must include the just and equitable treatment of farmworkers," he said.

NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale, who oversees social justice initiatives for the union, is marching with the farmworkers on two different days.

"I'm marching because those who work on these farms to bring us our food do not have the same rights as other workers. Marching for them is the right thing to do," Pecorale said.

Pecorale will join the march at noon on May 17 in Woodbury (Nassau County) and then again on May 26 on the walk from Wappingers to Highland, crossing the Walk Across the Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie.

NYSUT officers plan to rally with farmworkers and their supports at noon on June 1 at the Capitol.

"For decades the New York State AFL-CIO has pursued a legislative strategy to secure the same rights for farmworkers that all other classifications of workers currently enjoy including the right to organize," said Mario Cilento, president of the NYS AFL-CIO. "We need to stop treating farmworkers as second-class citizens. They deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect."

Are you ready?

Have you signed up to walk? Donated? Signed a petition?

The March for Farmworker Justice includes opportunities for union sisters and brothers to join the marchers for a short distance or all 200 miles. Supporters are asked to come out and cheer, or to take part in daily rallies as the throng passes through.

The farmworkers also ask supporters to help sponsor the trek; visit tinyurl.com/sponsormarch for more information.

Other ideas include hanging a banner outside a place of worship or union hall; volunteering before and during the march; and contacting state lawmakers to express support for justice for farmworkers.

The daily route plans are available at http://ruralmigrantministry.org/farmworker-march. Start and stop locations include: Brentwood, Bethpage, Hempstead, Queens Park, Jamaica, Brooklyn Bridge, Washington Heights, Dobbs Ferry, Croton-on-Hudson, Garrison, Wappingers Falls, Highland, Kingston, Saugerties, Catskill, Ravena, Glenmont, and Albany.

Highlights include a noon rally May 17 in Woodbury.

Another rally will be held at noon May 21 in Union Square. Youth can participate in Art for Justice on May 28 in Saugerties. Sign up here to march.

Western New York

While the heat on the street will be from Long Island to Albany, farmworker solidarity events are planned in Western New York.  Here are the dates and events:

  • Sunday, May 15: Buffalo. 12-2 p.m. St. Luke's Church. Rally and press conference.
  • Sunday, May 22: Lyons. 3-7. Grace Episcopal Church. Mini-march and dinner.
  • Thursday May 27: Syracuse, with the Workers' Center of Central NY. Lunch and march to lobby at office of Sen. Dave Valesky.
  • Tuesday, May 31: Caravan to Albany. Walk last five miles with marchers; dinner with marchers and overnight accommodations in preparation for Farmworker Albany Day, June 1.
  • Wednesday, June 1, Caravan to Albany for Farmworker Albany Day.

Visit www.tinyurl.com/WNYactions