A widely respected advocate for U.S. farmworker rights received the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, using the occasion to highlight pending state legislation that could significantly improve lives and working conditions that some have likened to modern-day slavery.
Librada Paz originally came to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico, when she was 15 years old, planning on studying for an engineering degree. Instead, for the next decade she ended up working on fruit and vegetable farms in New York State, where she learned of the “enormous discrimination” and “inhuman conditions” that continue to mark the lives of the state’s farmworkers. “In the fields, you do not matter – neither your security, nor your thoughts, nor your dignity. While all workers suffer enormous discrimination, this is multiplied particularly for women. This is what it means when the legal system allows abuse – when justice has no meaning.”
While working conditions for farmworkers throughout the country remain difficult, those in New York State have long been particularly, and often cruelly, marginalized. State legislation, passed in 1932, codified into law systematic discrimination against farmworkers in New York, even as other states eventually moved to extend protections to farm labor.
Now a leader with the Rural Migrant Ministry, a three-decade-old non-governmental organization focusing on farmworker rights in New York, Paz and others are currently advocating for state legislation that would do much to bring New York’s regulations on the issue in line with national and international standards. The bill, the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA), is scheduled to be debated early next year.
Currently, New York farmworkers are unable to engage in collective bargaining, do not receive overtime pay and often work for little over three dollars an hour, with child labor reportedly rampant. Many farmworkers in the state are forced to work 95-hour workweeks, often around the clock; live in miniscule, overcrowded group housing; and go years without receiving time off. Women have reported having suffered sexual assaults from employers.
If passed, the FFLPA would make it easier for women to pursue such charges against their employers. In addition, the bill would ensure that New York farmworkers receive the same minimum labor guarantees enjoyed by other workers in the state, enforcing a minimum wage, worktime caps and overtime assurances, and worker compensation and disability insurance.
Learn more at Carey L. Brion’s Inter Press Service News Agency article: Some U.S. Farmworkers Face “Inhuman Conditions”.