Lawsuit Seeks to Win Organizing Rights for New York’s Farmworkers

Crispin Hernandez, 22, used to milk cows at Marks Farm in Lowville, New York. Over three years, he said he saw and endured many injustices, including working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with very few breaks, not being treated for an injury after he was stepped on by a cow and being charged money for the right kind of gloves needed to do the job safely.

“We were yelled at constantly and I felt that the cows were treated better than we were as workers,” Hernandez said through Spanish to English translator Andrea Barrientos, a paralegal with the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which is representing him in a lawsuit. Marks Farm declined to comment for this story

Hernandez is one of three plaintiffs suing over the fact that he was fired after, he said, he helped organize meetings with other workers. He and the other plaintiffs claim that the state law excluding farm workers from the right to organize is unconstitutional.

Last week, Judge Richard J. McNally decided that oral arguments would be heard in the case on July 20.

A victory in the case, brought together with the Workers’ Center of Central New York, a grassroots organization focused on workplace and economic justice, and the Worker Justice Center of New York, a human rights organization focused on agricultural and other low-wage workers, would give collective bargaining rights to farm workers throughout the state, something that has eluded advocates through the legislative process.

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