Farmworkers in New York have won an important victory in an appellate court, upholding their right to form unions. The Appellate Division of the state’s Supreme Court ruled that farmworkers, like all other workers in New York, have the right to unionize, rejecting an exemption in state law that excluded agricultural employees from collective bargaining rights. The court ruled that this exemption was unconstitutional. Workers’ rights advocates hailed the decision, saying that it was critical to protecting farmworkers’ rights and dignity on the job.
The case was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, representing a dairy worker who was fired from his job for attempting to form a union. The case sought a change in state law and a declaration that the exemption violated the New York constitution. While New York’s Democratic governor declined to defend the state law in court, the Farm Bureau stepped in to present a defense to the exclusion of farmworkers from collective bargaining rights. Advocates noted that while many farmworkers may choose to work long hours to accumulate pay during the months with the heaviest work, many agricultural laborers are mistreated on the job.
Some worker advocates noted that wage theft has been a significant issue for some farmworkers. Without the right to unionize and collectively bargain, workers often fear raising issues with short paychecks, knowing that they could be fired for coming together as a group to protest their working conditions. While state officials praised the decision, the Farm Bureau pledged to continue its appeal of the case to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
The right to unionize and collectively bargain has been critical to many advances obtained on the job for employees. A labor law attorney might help workers to defend their rights in the bargaining room and in the courtroom.