Sound arduous? Not when you consider the daily toil of farm workers 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 farm workers is often crowded, unclean and unsafe for women. The workers are marching for passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.
One of the leaders of the march is Librada Paz, a former farm worker who picked fruit and vegetables in Western New York. She was honored as the 2012 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate. Paz has given powerful, emotional testimony before lawmakers about the struggles facing farm workers and was featured on the 2013 NYSUT Hispanic Heritage poster.
Paz is now a board member with Rural and Migrant Ministries, which organized the march.
Richard Witt, director of the Rural and Migrant Ministries, joined Paz and others on the march. He said he is hopeful about the "developing concern and commitment by a growing number of people across the state for New York's farm workers."
The number of state senators supporting the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has been growing, Witt said. "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 farm workers," he said.
NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale, who oversees social justice initiatives for the union, joined the march in Woodbury, then again crossing the Mid-Hudson Bridge into Poughkeepsie.
"I'm marching because those who work on 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.
NYSUT officers plan to rally with farm workers and their supporters 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 farm workers that all other classifications of workers currently enjoy, including the right to organize," said Mario Cilento, president of the state AFL-CIO. "We need to stop treating farm workers as second-class citizens. They deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect."
The Rural and Migrant Ministries offer many ways to get involved in the Farm Worker Justice campaign. Visit http://ruralmigrantministry.org/ and click on "Get Involved."
Visit www.nysut.org/news/nysut-united/issues/2013/june-2013/farm-workers-stories-abused-gored-overworked to view Librada Paz's testimony before lawmakers.
Download a copy of the 2013 NYSUT Hispanic Heritage Month poster at www.nysut.org/news/2013/september/hispanic-heritage-month-free-poster-features-librada-paz.