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Farmworkers rally on Long Island for overtime pay

People march from the the Hicksville Train Station

People march from the the Hicksville Train Station to Gov. Cuomo's Regional Long Island Headquarters in Hicksville to protest for Farm Workers rights on Cesar Chavez Day on Sunday, March 29, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Heriberto Gonzalez says he didn't have days off when he picked vegetables at an upstate farm, working 75 to 80 hours a week.

Gonzalez, 25, lived in a small room on an Orange County farm with five other people after emigrating from Mexico when he was 19.

"It's very difficult when we have a long day, and everyone starts to think like, 'Oh, we're almost finished with this day,' but sometimes the owner of the farm, he came and he says, 'We need to do something else' and we need to do it."

Gonzalez and other migrants' rights activists demonstrated in Hicksville Sunday, calling on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to mandate overtime pay for the state's farmworkers by signing an executive order.

Fourteen activists marched from the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road station to a nearby state office building in the name of labor rights advocate Cesar Chavez, whose activism is commemorated by a national holiday Tuesday.

A bill -- the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act -- that would entitle farmworkers to overtime payments and collective bargaining has languished in the Assembly for 15 years, said Nathan Berger, the Long Island organizer for the Rural and Migrant Ministry, a statewide advocacy group with offices in Garden City. Berger also called on Long Island's state senators to publicly support the bill.

"This is something concrete that Gov. Cuomo can do to move toward justice for farmworkers," said Berger. "If you give farmworkers the option to a day of rest, it's more likely that they won't get hurt; if you give farmworkers the right to overtime pay -- growers that always talk about labor shortages -- workers are more likely to want to stay in the profession. This is about sustainability and making New York agriculture stronger." A spokesman for Cuomo, a Democrat, did not respond to a message seeking comment Sunday.

While many of New York's farms dot the upstate landscape, Long Island also has an estimated 5,000 farmworkers, mostly on farms and vineyards of the East End.


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