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BACK IN COURT: The issue over farmworker collective bargaining rights in New York state dates to 2016 after a dairy farmworker sued the state over the right to organize.

New York farmworker collective bargaining case returns to court

Crispin Hernandez claims his employer fired him for trying to organize workers.

The issue of farmworker collective bargaining rights in New York state is once again being heard in court.

On Feb. 11, the state’s Supreme Court Appellate Division heard an appeal from the New York Civil Liberties Union on the case, which goes back to 2016. In January 2018, the New York Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, which would have given farmworkers collective bargaining rights.

New York Farm Bureau, which has long opposed farmworker collective bargaining rights, argued in court that the State Employment Relations Act, which excludes farmworkers from collective bargaining rights, is constitutional.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has argued that the act is the product of segregationist politics enacted in the 1930s and that it violates the state’s constitution.

“New York Farm Bureau continued to make a strong case today in the Supreme Court Appellate Division in Albany, N.Y., as to why the court should uphold the dismissal of the NYCLU lawsuit that seeks collective bargaining rights for farmworkers. Our attorney, Brian Butler, of Bond, Schoeneck and King, argued that our system of government requires that the legislature change state law, not the courts,” according to a statement issued by Farm Bureau.

“New York Farm Bureau has long opposed farmworker collective bargaining for one simple reason. Much of agriculture is driven by the seasons and the weather in a way that is different from any other occupation,” the statement reads. “The timely planting and harvesting of crops are solely dictated by mother nature. Additionally, livestock care can also be an around-the-clock job. A work stoppage in the name of a labor strike can seriously put animal health and a season’s worth of work in jeopardy.”

Case timeline
The case goes back to 2016 when farmworker Crispin Hernandez, the Workers Center of Central New York, the Worker Justice Center of New York and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the state after Hernandez was fired from one of the state’s largest dairies. New York Farm Bureau was granted intervenor status and is a co-defendant in the case.

Hernandez claims that his employer, located in Lewis County, fired him after seeing him meeting with coworkers and a labor organizer to discuss workplace conditions. The meeting took place after work hours and in a worker’s home.

The lawsuit was filed in May 2016. At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said publicly that they would not defend the Employment Relations Act in court, saying that it conflicted with the state’s constitution.

The lawsuit was dismissed in January 2018.

A decision on the case isn’t expected for months. The Supreme Court Appellate Division is the second-highest court in the state, the highest being the Court of Appeals.

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