Historically, farm workers have few protections under federal labor statutes, making it difficult for them to unionize, earn fair wages, assert workers’ compensation claims, or enjoy adequate rest periods. At the beginning of 2020, the New York State Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act implemented the following provisions to improve working conditions for farm laborers:
- Farm workers have the right to unionize. Section 701 of the New York Labor Law has been amended to include farmworkers as “employees” and farm owners as “employers,” and other sections of the law have been amended to give farmworkers some of the same unionization rights as other private sector workers. Note, however, that farmworkers cannot legally strike.
- Maximum 60-hour workweeks and overtime: NYLL 163-a limits the workweek to 60 hours for farm workers, and requires employers to pay time and a half for overtime hours. Additionally, section 161 now states that farm laborers are allowed 24 consecutive hours of rest per calendar week.
- Section 225 of the Public Health Law allows code officers to inspect premises inhabited by fewer than five persons, and to enforce sanitary code requirements for living quarters.
- Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ Compensation coverage has been expanded to more employees, and notices must be posted in both Spanish and English. Supervisors are required to report injuries to the employer, and employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers who file for Workers’ Compensation benefits.
- Farm Laborers’ Wage Board: A wage board is empowered to make recommendations regarding overtime rates for farm workers to the governor and legislature.
- Employers must get a permit to operate housing for farm laborers, which improves the chances that living quarters will be safe and sanitary.
Notwithstanding early legal challenges and the pandemic, farmworkers are starting to unionize and assert their rights. Recently, vineyard workers on Long Island became the first unionized farmworkers in the state, joining Local 338 RWDSU/UFSW. This is an enormous stride in the long history of farmworker rights, and it is only the beginning.
In January 2022, the New York Farm Laborer’s Wage Board voted require overtime pay for farmworkers after 40 hours of work in a week–but the Wage Board has not adopted the official report, which would trigger the timeline for the New Yok Labor Commissioner to approve or overturn the vote. Watch this space.
If you have questions about how your rights might be affected by the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, contact a workers’ rights attorney today.