2/9/2017 9:00:00 AM PRESS CONFERENCE Catholics speak out
for N.Y. farmworkers
BACKED BY FARMWORKERS and supporters of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger speaks at a press conference Feb. 6 at the Legislative Office Building in Albany. (Kathleen Lamanna photo)
BY KATHLEEN LAMANNA STAFF WRITER
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger delivered remarks in support of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act at a press conference Feb. 6 at the State Capitol in Albany.
The legislation would speak to many of the injustices the state's farmworkers face, including a lack of vacation time and no regulated work week. The bill would also provide the workers with a mandatory day off.
"Farmworkers across New York State endure long hours of hard physical labor and are exposed to dangerous conditions every day, yet they are excluded from workplace rights," says the New York State Catholic Conference, which lobbies on behalf of the state's bishops on issues of concern to Catholics.
Currently, farmworkers are not protected under either the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 or the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. With the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, farmworkers would be entitled to the same rights as every other employee in New York State.
Those worker protections, the Catholic Conference notes, include overtime pay; employer contributions to unemployment and workers' compensation funds; and public health protections, including sanitation and housing standards. A weekly day off would also allow workers time for religious worship and time with their families.
In a memorandum of support, the Catholic Conference stated that "it is unacceptable for farmworkers to be denied the basic labor, safety and health protections other workers enjoy."
At the press conference, Bishop Scharfenberger said he believes this to be a matter of ethics and respect for human life. Referencing the recent March for Life in Washington, D.C., the Bishop expressed concern and care for all human beings.
"You have my support," he said to the farmworkers and others in attendance. "You have my love."
The Bishop noted that he is proud to fight for the dignity of all people, expressing support for farmworkers' families, as well. His deep respect, he said, is partly due to the fact that he has friends and family members who work in the agriculture industry.
Sens. Marisol Alcantara (D-Manhattan), Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) echoed the need to assist farmworkers.
"We can do better for farmworkers here in New York," Senator Savino said, expressing hope that this would be the year to enact the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.
Also in attendance at the press conference were a group of farmworkers who made a 200-mile march from Long Island to Albany last year to bring awareness to the unfair treatment they have experienced. The march concluded with a rally at the State Capitol.
That event was sponsored by Rural and Migrant Ministry, Inc. Bishop Scharfenberger participated in a leg of the march, as did Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the New York Archdiocese.
One of the participants in the march, Boris Martinez, whose comments were translated by Francis Madi of the New York Immigration Coalition, said that his typical summer workday runs from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
"It doesn't matter if we are sick," he said. "Sometimes, we don't have the right equipment. We want everyone to be conscious. Many of us don't speak because we are afraid."
The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act is in committee in both the State Senate and Assembly. To learn more, go to www.nyscatholic.org and http://ruralmigrantministry.org/en/justice-farmworkers-campaign.