New York Farmworkers Get Workers Compensation Protection

On Wednesday, July 17, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation granting workers compensation to farmworkers in the state. The bill adds a number of additional protections under New York Department of Labor rules, including collective bargaining rights, family medical leave and mandatory time off.

Cuomo called the bill “a great achievement” during the signing ceremony. “It’s also a milestone in the crusade for social justice. It truly is a moment for reflection and celebration,” he said.

Titled the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, the new law was sponsored by Sen. Senator Jessica Ramos. Seven prior versions of the bill had failed to pass through the legislature before the newly elected Democratic majority quickly passed it earlier this month. 

“The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has lingered in this body for 20 years, with 7 sponsors on both sides of the aisle. I am proud today to be the 8th and last sponsor of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act,” Sen. Ramos said in a press release. 

The bill also grants New York farmworkers, who number about 100,000, overtime pay, unemployment insurance, and one full 24-hour period off each week. It also limits to 60 the number of hours a farm worker can work each week. 

Additionally, the bill will require farm operators who employ migrant workers to adhere to basic safety and sanitation standards as outlined in the sanitary code. These include standards for living quarters, shade and potable drinking water,  fire protection, and appropriate maintenance of the camp. 

Righting Historic Wrongs

Historically, farmworkers have been excluded from most of the protections granted to employees in the United States. Specifically, they are exempt from two major pieces of federal legislation, the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The former, passed in 1935, forbids employers from retaliating against workers for organizing, supporting or joining a labor union. The latter established minimum wage standards and the right to overtime pay for employees who work more than 40 hours in a given week. Passed in 1938, the law fully excluded farmworkers until 1966, when some farm laborers were granted limited wage protections under the law. 

Although some states, notably California, have granted farmworkers additional protections, including overtime pay and the right to file a workers compensation claim, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act is the most sweeping in the nation thus far. 

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