LOWVILLE — Three organizations that support immigrant farmworkers held a peaceful protest Friday at Marks Farms in response to an incident in which an employee was allegedly beaten and fired by a farm supervisor.
About 35 protesters marched onto Marks Farms to raise awareness to stop violence against workers and wage theft in commemoration of International Workers Day.
May First Agricultural Workers’ Committee, Workers Center of Central New York and Worker Justice Center of New York held the rally at the farm.
Protesters shouted in unison, “Si, se puede,” which translates to “Yes, it is possible.”
The rally follows an incident March 24 in which it was alleged that a dairy farmworker named Francisco was kicked in the head and beaten by Michael Tabolt, a supervisor on Marks Farms.
Rebecca Fuentes, of the Workers’ Center of Central New York, earlier this week said the phone call she received from the worker was “horrible” and he said he was in pain. The center was able to arrange for other workers in the area to take him to the hospital.
According to Ms. Fuentes, it was the worker’s day off, but he was called in to work because the farm was short-handed. The worker was not happy about having to come in and was complaining. At some point, the manager came over, yelling at the worker to leave the farm.
During the altercation, the manager allegedly threw him to the floor several times and the worker eventually was fired, Ms. Fuentes said.
Dr. Lindsey Peck, a veterinarian who owns Marks Farms, said she cannot comment on the incident because it is still under investigation.
“What I can say is that we have a zero-tolerance policy for drugs, alcohol and inappropriate behavior,” Dr. Peck said. “What I can say is that the employee in question, who is making these allegations, violated that policy and our manager acted in the safety of the rest of the employees here, as well as the employee in the incident, and we fully support him.”
According to Mr. Tabolt’s Facebook page, he is Dr. Peck’s husband.
State Police Senior Investigator Michael J. Marvin earlier this week confirmed that a complaint has been filed, but would not release more information regarding the incident because it is under investigation.
Jose Canas, of El Salvador, who worked on the farm for three years and is a founding member of the May First Agricultural Workers’ Committee, said the protesters were there to denounce abuses that take place.
“We are here today as a symbol of protest to show that we matter as workers and that we have rights,” Mr. Canas said. “Comrades and workers, we cannot allow for them to abuse us and kick us out with violence. We also have rights; we have to remember that when we are greeted with violence. ... This is a call to all of the workers today to let go of the fear, to announce the abuses (and) to stop with the racism.”
Lazaro Alvarez, of Mexico, who worked on the farm for five months and is another founder of the May First Agricultural Workers’ Committee, said the abuses do not take place just at Marks Farms, but at all dairy farms.
“We are part of this economy and this is about a win-win. We contribute to your business, so we want everyone to have rights,” Mr. Alvarez said. “We want dignity, because we are a part of this economy.”
Another protester, Augustin Arevalo of Mexico, said the workers have to respect the owners because they deserve respect. However, when there is an injustice, the owner should not be protected.
“If you are going to have the courage to beat a worker, you better be ready to do the work that they are doing,” Mr. Arevalo said. “Respect the management, but if there is an injustice, do not defend them. Because the same that defend injustice will someday be exploited.”
Carly Fox, with the Worker Justice Center of New York, read aloud the letter the protesters were presenting to the owners of Marks Farms.
The letter called for Marks Farms to fire Mr. Tabolt for his actions, to treat the workers as human beings, to have safer working conditions and to pay higher wages.
Dr. Peck said the farm provides adequate wages, some of the best in the state. The farm also has soccer fields for recreational purposes and the housing provided is “beautiful.”
“We do support the cause for this group,” Dr. Peck said. “Obviously, we take very good care of our workers.”
Mr. Alvarez said while he worked at the farm, the housing was subhuman with no dignity.
The reason the conditions improved was not because the farmers woke up and said “let’s make a housing change,” Ms. Fox said.
“These guys are the reason the housing changed,” she said.
Mr. Canas said there have been changes on Marks Farms. Each worker now has a bedroom and the salaries are a little higher.
“Something should have happened sooner. We should have formed a group to call attention to all of these problematic conditions in the workplace,” he said.