Four state House members eye farmworker unionization rights

Rep. Dan Miller, D-Pittsburgh, is pictured in the state House of Representatives chamber.

Four state House members are eyeing unionization rights for the state’s farmworkers.

Reps. Danilo Burgos, Manny Guzman, Joe Hohenstein and Dan Miller actually announced the legislation in a news release almost a year ago, but have finally progressed to the point of introducing a co-sponsorship memorandum in the state House earlier this week. Draft legislation still hasn’t been introduced – meaning any actual legislative debate on the issue is a ways off.

But, the memorandum does say the representatives plan to strike the state’s exclusion of individuals employed as agricultural protections from the state Labor Relations Act.

“It would extend to them the right to self-organize, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively about the terms and conditions of their employment, and to engage in concerted activities for mutual aid or protection,” Burgos, Guzman, Hohenstein and Miller wrote in their memorandum.

New York passed its Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act in 2019 giving farm employees the right to organize but not to strike. According to the state Department of Labor, farmworkers are protected from retaliation if they are having conversations about conditions and organizing a union. New York farmworkers are also eligible for disability insurance and paid family leave, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and a day of rest in a week. Farm workers are also now to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week.

Rep. Manny Guzman, D-Philadelphia, is pictured speaking at a rally earlier this year.

The issue has been a partisan fight in the Democrat-controlled New York state Legislature, with Republicans working to repeal the measure with little luck – though much of the Republican opposition deals with higher costs associated with farmworker overtime provisions in the law.

While details remain sketchy, Lancasterfarming.com reported earlier this year the Pennsylvania bill is expected to include protections for farm workers from discrimination based on race, age and sex; make them fully eligible for unemployment benefits; and give them the same rights as renters if they live in farm-provided housing.

“The right of workers to freely organize collectively is fundamental. Collective bargaining puts the worker on equal footing with that of management, allowing for fair standards related to their pay, benefits and work environment,” the lawmakers wrote in their memorandum. “The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act was adopted in 1937, and like the federal law it was based on, its exclusion of “agricultural laborers” from the protected rights extended to other workers was rooted in the relationship between agricultural labor and slavery.”


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