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Farm worker advocates make plea for protections

Advocates seeking labor protections for New York's farmworkers called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday to act on a proposal that is stalled, as in previous years, in a State Senate committee.

About a dozen people gathered outside the state Department of Labor office in Hicksville, holding signs with messages such as "Gov. Cuomo Be a Leader!" and "Justice for Farmworkers."

The Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act, sought by advocates and opposed by agricultural industry groups, would require farms -- where recent immigrants often are employed -- to offer a day of rest, pay overtime and give workers the chance to organize.

The bill was not headed for a vote as Albany's legislative calendar comes to its close.

"We feel that the governor, although he has supported the bill, has not done enough to urge senators to make sure that this bill gets passed," said Nathan Berger, Long Island organizer with the nonprofit Rural & Migrant Ministry, a statewide advocacy group. "I've spoken to farmworkers across the state and they want to have equality. They'd like to see better conditions."

Neither Cuomo's office nor the Senate Republican Conference offered comment. A statewide industry group expressed relief that the measure wasn't moving forward, saying its provisions could hurt farms.

"Farming can never be a factory situation where you work 40 hours a week inside, producing a widget," said Jeff Williams, public policy director with the New York Farm Bureau, a lobbying group. "Farmers deal with weather; they deal with constantly fluctuating commodity prices; they deal with lack of labor."

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