071018 Farm Labor 4 - NG

Mexican Migrant workers, Marcos, left, and Maricela, center, harvests cauliflower at Coulter Farms under the supervision of Farm Manager Jeff Hall, right. Jim Coulter, owner of Coulter Farms, is a third generation farmer who said his business depends on the availability of dependable migrant workers.

A group of laborers at a Long Island winery are officially members of the first farmworkers union in New York.

Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW has been certified by the state Public Employment Relations Board to represent field workers at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic, Suffolk County. Farm employees are able to form unions after the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act was signed in 2019.

Before the law took effect, farmworkers were denied many labor rights, including the ability to collectively bargain.

Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and United Food and Commerical Workers, field to represent Pindar's field workers on May 28. The state board certified the union as the workers' representative on Sept. 27.

"My coworkers at Pindar and I joined Local 338 because we want dignity and respect," said Rodolfo M., who is a member of the new union and a worker at Pindar Vineyards. "Our work should be valued and only by receiving equal treatment and things like sick days and paid time off to spend with our loved ones will it be. We know that being a union member will help us get the recognition we deserve for all of our efforts."

Under the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, farm employees have a right to organize but cannot strike. According to the state Department of Labor, farmworkers are protected from retaliation if they are having conversations about conditions and organizing a union.

Farmworkers are also now eligible for disability insurance and paid family leave, unemployment insurance, workers' compensation and a day of rest in a week. Farms are also required to pay employees overtime if they work over 60 hours a week. That threshold could be lowered by a wage board. The board could meet as early as Nov. 1 to either keep the 60-hour overtime standard or lower it to 40 hours.

While the overtime debate needs to be settled, New York's labor movement is celebrating the new union established by workers at Pindar Vineyards. John Durso, president of Local 338 RWSDU/UFCW, believes it's a historic moment.

"We are incredibly proud to represent the workers at Pindar Vineyards and are looking forward to securing a strong collective bargaining agreement," Durso said.

It's also a major achievement for state legislators, including state Sen. Jessica Ramos, who advocated for the passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. Ramos chairs the Senate Labor Committee and visited farms across New York before the state Legislature acted on the legislation in 2019.

As business groups and farms assailed the bill, Ramos continued to highlight the need for farmworkers to have labor rights, including the right to form a union.

"When we corrected the labor law to give farmworkers the same basic rights as other workers in New York and rid our state of a Jim Crow sin, we dreamt of the day workers would answer the call to organize for better wages and working conditions," Ramos, D-Queens, said. "Welcome, Pindar Vineyards workers, to the labor family and congratulations on choosing RWDSU Local 338. You're stronger together when negotiating a fair contract with your employer."

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