ALBANY — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought collective bargaining rights for New York farmworkers, a ruling that drew applause from a farmers’ trade organization and a vow to appeal from workers’ rights organizations.
The New York Farm Bureau said farming is not a predictable eight-hour-a-day job, and weather sometimes forces farmers to cram weeks of work into a few days, so awarding collective bargaining rights to farmworkers could jeopardize the harvest of a crop or the health of livestock.
The New York Civil Liberties Union called the provision in state labor law a holdover from the Jim Crow era that reflects the segregationist policies of the past.
The NYCLU represents plaintiffs Crispin Hernandez, the Workers’ Center of Central New York and the Worker Justice Center of New York. It said Hernandez was fired from his 72-hour-a-week job at a large Lowville-area dairy farm when his employer saw him and some co-workers meeting after hours with a labor organizer at a worker’s residence.
NYCLU said it brought suit in May 2016 to strike down a provision of the circa-1937 State Employment Relations Act, which exempts farmworkers from the state constitution’s guarantee that all workers can collectively bargain.
Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman publicly agreed that excluding farmworkers from the right to organize conflicts with the state constitution, NYCLU said, and both refused to oppose the lawsuit in court. In response, the Farm Bureau requested that it be allowed to intervene to defend the law as a party in the case.
On Jan. 3, Albany County Supreme Court Judge Richard McNally dismissed the case, finding the arguments unpersuasive or without merit and writing that any changes made to the State Employment Relations Act should be made by the state Legislature.
“The court’s decision is a major victory for New York’s family farms,” the Farm Bureau said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday.
NYCLU said it would appeal.