NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

January 23, 2018

 

 

Editorial

Farmworkers denied, again, as judge misreads the state Constitution

 

Every spring, some of New York State’s 100,000 farmworkers trek to Albany to ask for equal labor rights.

Meaning: overtime pay, an unpaid day off per week, the ability to organize and bargain collectively — all the basic guarantees the rest of us take for granted but that a Jim Crow-era law bars them and only them from enjoying.

And every spring, lawmakers say oops, sorry, we feel for you, but it’s too late in the session to act.

So this year, the journey came at the very start of the session, last Wednesday. About two dozen field hands rode buses to the capital from the greenhouses of Long Island, the vegetable farms of the Hudson Valley and the dairies of Western New York for a hearing before a panel of human-rights observers.

The first to testify was Crispin Hernandez, who was fired from an upstate dairy in 2016 because he met with labor organizers, and who then sued, challenging the law that bars the right to organize.

Only the day before his trip to Albany, a judge had ruled on his case — the wrong way. Albany State Supreme Court Justice Richard McNally, in a spare five pages, dismissed the suit.

Root to stem, the judge bought the line of the growers lobby, the Farm Bureau, which stepped in to make the case for the patently unjust law after Gov. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in an unprecedented move, refused to defend it.

Cuomo and Schneiderman bowed out for good reason. The state Constitution says that “Labor of human beings is not a commodity nor an article of commerce and shall never be so considered or construed. Employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.”

Never mind, McNally wrote, “the Constitution does not define the term ‘employees’ ”; he added that subsequent state labor law says that farmworkers are not employees.

But judge, they pretty squarely fall under the definition of “human beings.”

Hernandez will appeal and hopefully prevail. Meanwhile, the Legislature, especially the Senate, does nothing. Senate Labor Committee Chair Marisol Alcantara, the granddaughter and daughter-in-law of farm workers, sponsors legislation to end the injustices.

So why on God’s green Earth won’t she hold a hearing or call a vote on her own bill?