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Law would protect workers from abuse

In some of my volunteer work, I have been drawn to the issue of farm workers and their struggles for economic justice in New York State. Through some of these workers, I have heard their stories of abuse at their work site. I have also heard that some farmers in New York State are very sympathetic to farm workers and their quest for better working conditions.

In the March issue of “In These Times,” a national publication, Joseph Sorrentino interviewed and documented farm workers’ testimonies of abuses throughout Western New York. Some of these abuses include assault, rape, sexual harassment and forcing them to work in spite of serious workplace injuries. In too many cases, farm workers will not complain because of a possibility of loss of job or housing. Others are not documented and have fears of being apprehended.

In 2004-05, much to the embarrassment of Western New Yorkers, federal courts found some farmers in Niagara and Orleans County guilty of farm worker abuses. I am certainly aware that New York State is one of the leading agricultural states in the country and just recently was recognized as the leading dairy producer in the United States.

Passing this farm labor bill will help ensure the respect of our dairy farmers. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, when the United Farm Workers in California were fighting for fair wages and benefits, the cost of produce in markets did not raise significantly, I would venture to say that the same would happen in New York State if the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act passes.

I believe passing this bill is a moral obligation to make sure all workers are treated with dignity and respect, no matter what their race, color, creed or culture. This will also set precedence for neighboring states to do the same.

Wayne Alt

Buffalo