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1 Aug 2023

USA: Unionisation of 500 largely Jamaican & Mexican farmworkers in NY State challenged by NY Farm Bureau and farm owners

In early July 2023, the Guardian reported that 500 farmworkers at five farms (Wafler Farms, Cahoon Farms, Porpiglia, Lynn-Ette, and A&J Kirby) have unionized in New York, the biggest success in years for the United Farm Workers union. The president of the UFW stated that the success was enabled by the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which protects’ farm workers’ right to unionize without employer retaliation.

The article notes the decline of the United Farm Workers union since the work of Cesar Chavez in the 1970s, with membership dropping from 60,000 to 6,000. This success will therefore increase the union’s membership by 8%.

The vast majority of the new unionized workers are migrants from Jamaica or Mexico, doing seasonal work on the H-2A visa. Workers named a number of rights infringements that led them to unionise, including poor living conditions, a lack of company grievance mechanisms, arbitrary dismissal for ‘speaking up’, and denial of pay for those who make complaints.

The five farms did not respond to the Guardian’s requests for comment.

A later article released by Times Union at the end of July 2023 notes that another farm is pending to join the five unionized farms. However, it also reports that the New York Farm Bureau and farm owners are challenging whether temporary migrant workers have a right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. New York’s Public Employment Relations Board is considering the issue, with the potential for an appeal in court.

The article also emphasizes the power differential between employers and migrant workers in the context of a visa system where dismissal would also lead to deportation.

The article states The New York Bureau declined to make public the farms involved in the case; Porpiglia Farms did not return a request for comment; and operators for other farms in the region that employ many migrant workers also declined to comment on the story.