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By Emily Griffin

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) – Last week, a state hearing was held in an effort by some farm organizations to amend portions of the New York State Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which was created with the intent of allowing farm workers to unionize with the same rights that other private sector employees in the state have.

However, the state Vegetable Growers Association, along with a few family farms, filed a lawsuit saying the act does not provide the same collective bargaining rights.

Joshua Viau represented them in court.

“Farm workers, for example, don’t have the right to a secret ballot election, they do not have the right to decertify, they don’t drop from the union if they don’t want to be part of it anymore,” Viau said.

Farm employers who joined the suit were also arguing a section of the act that prohibits them from saying anything to their workers about unionization — including information that could be helpful to workers when deciding if they want to unionize — because that’s seen as unfairly discouraging the worker.

“This law went too far by not allowing employers to say anything about union organizing activity, like, ‘hey, if you join a union, you’ll have to pay dues,’” Viau said.

During the hearing, the judge did agree with the farm organizations that not allowing farmers to talk to employees about unions goes against the First Amendment. However, other areas of the lawsuit didn’t have enough proof of harm or needed to come from an individual worker rather than the farm organizations.

“We’re still working to determine what our potential next steps are to continue to advocate for these changes in the law,” Viau said.

But it does look promising, because the judge himself called those other issues un-American and said, “I’m with you all the way through it,” but added, “It doesn’t matter, my tool is the Constitution, and it just doesn’t fit.”

“I think the judge made it clear that he agreed with our premise, and he agreed that farm workers deserve these basic rights when it comes to collective bargaining and unionization,” Viau said, “but due to some of these technical issues, we have to re-evaluate and work to achieve that.”

Visit WWNY-Watertown to watch the full story: Ag Weekly: Farm worker unionization (wwnytv.com)

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