Archive for the ‘Worker’s Rights’ Category

$15 and a Union: Making the Minimum Wage a Living Wage in Syracuse (Part of the ongoing Socialist Forum)

In Austerity, Capitalism, Economics, Worker's Rights on March 22, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Unprecedented productivity gains in the economy have been translated to profits for owners and stagnant wages for workers. Our panel will discuss the effects of low wages on workers and those entering the workforce, the living wage, and organizing for change.


Featured Speakers:

Sandy Arias is an activist with “15 Now” and will discuss the organizing efforts in NYC and the success of Kshama Sawant and others in raising the minimum wage in Seattle.

Rebecca Fuentes is an immigrant rights activist and Coordinator of the Workers’ Center of CNY. Rebcca works with farm workers throughout New York state.

Jesse Harasta is a teacher and researcher at Cazenovia College. He is working on the Syracuse Living Wage Study.

Howie Hawkins is active in the Green and Socialist parties. His 2014 Green campaign for Governor advocated a $15 minimum wage. Howie is a truck unloader at UPS and a Teamster.

Cosponsored by CNY Reds and Syracuse Greens.


NY Dairy Farmworkers Push Back Against Wage Theft: Stolen Back Pay Recovered

In Labor, Worker's Rights on March 22, 2015 at 12:13 pm


SYRACUSE, New York – Former Dairy farmworkers from Demko Inc. in Lowville, NY recovered $700 in stolen wages for two workers, following the delivery of a demand letter to the owner of the farm on Sunday March 1, 2015. The collective action also pushed the employer to start paying all workers at least the current minimum wage of $8.75.

The action was supported by the Workers’ Center of Central New York (WCCNY) and the May First Agricultural Workers Committee.

Earlier this year, David Arevalo suffered chest injuries from being kicked by a cow. With the help of the WCCNY and other farmworkers he received the necessary medical attention. “After talking with members of the WCCNY I found out that I had the right to workers’ compensation and also learned that New York’s minimum wage is $8.75 and the owner only paid me $6.00 an hour.”

The workers also demanded Demko Farms pay their current workers the required state minimum wage, which went up to $8.75 this year. “All owners should follow the law, pay the minimum wage and give workers proper medical attention when injured on the job,” said Rebecca Fuentes, WCCNY organizer. They also demand current farm workers get back pay for the remaining of the wages they have not been paid since the minimum wage went up on December 31, 2014.

“There is simply no excuse for employers who do not pay the minimum wage. Wage theft is a crime, just like any other form of theft, but many workers are hesitant to speak up for their rights due to fears of employer retaliation. Mr. Arevalo and his colleagues should be commended for their courage. May they inspire other farmworkers to fight back against abuse and exploitation.” Said Carly Fox, Worker Advocate with the Worker Justice Center of NY.

Demko farms is just one of many players in an industry fraught with wage theft and health and safety violations. Wage theft in farms typically occurs when employers fail to provide workers with their last paycheck or are not paid minimum wage. “Our collective action represents the desire of workers to be treated with dignity and respect. Our labor makes New York one of the highest producers of milk and the number one producer of Greek yogurt in the country,” said Jose Cañas, one of the workers who participated in the collective action.

Since 2013, The Workers’ Center of Central New York, located in Syracuse NY, has helped dairy workers from different farms in Upstate New York secure more than $3,000 in stolen back pay.

Workers’ Center of Central New York
232 E. Onondaga St.
Syracuse, NY 13202
Contact Rebecca Fuentes (315) 657-6799

The Urban Jobs Task Force Will Present and Distribute its Inner Harbor Community Benefits Agreements to COR, SIDA and the Media

In Corporations, Government, Media Advisory, Worker's Rights on June 13, 2014 at 11:48 am


When:   8:30 am Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where:  Common Council Chambers, City Hall

What:    SIDA public hearing on COR’s Inner Harbor project

8:30 am Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in the Common Council Chambers, City Hall during the public hearing on the Inner Harbor project, the Urban Jobs Task Force (UJTF) will present and distribute its Inner Harbor Community Benefits Agreement to COR, SIDA and the media.  Following that presentation, UJTF members and the community will speak to the urgent need to establish monitored requirements for city-sponsored development.  These requirements must target city residents in need of employment and city small businesses in need of subcontracts.

Throughout the country, communities and some municipalities are working to make sure everyone benefits when public dollars are spent on a project.  Since the late nineties, CBA’s have been effective strategies for providing jobs, fair wages, contracts, housing, green space, grocery stores, community centers or whatever the community feels will foster a better quality of life in their neighborhoods affected by the project.  Two successful examples are the 1999 Hollywood and Highland CBA and 2008 Pittsburg Penguin Arena CBA.

This approach is powerful because the community speaks for itself and negotiates these legal agreements with the developer, be it a private company or a municipality.  To be effective CBAs must include compliance monitoring and enforcement.  Over the last four semesters, the Urban Jobs Task Force has worked with the Syracuse University’s Community Development Law Clinic to develop a CBA for the Inner Harbor Project.  Since this would be the first CBA in Syracuse we want it to serve as a model for how a project getting tax benefits can be more inclusive of the affected community.

Last October, COR told the UJTF it wasn’t interested in negotiating an Inner Harbor CBA because it was partnering with SUNYEOC to hire locally.  The UJTF believes SUNYEOC is a good partner of choice but if there is no targeted hiring requirement for COR to meet, such as the one in our CBA that calls for Inner Harbor contractors to hire 15 – 25% low-income city residents, history suggests that very few inner-city residents are likely to get opportunities through this development project.  At this point, the UJTF wants at least to have a conversation with COR about the community’s needs and ways in which the UJTF can partner with SUNYEOC and COR to facilitate local hiring. UJTF is a coalition of 40 community organizations and faith based groups that can add value to SUNYEOC & COR’s efforts to hire locally even if a full CBA is not enacted.  But COR has refused to even meet with us. This is why the UJTF is using this hearing to publicize its Inner Harbor CBA and the need for accountable development.  If we are ever going to tackle poverty in our city, we need to change the status quo.

The Urban Jobs Task Force (UJTF) is a coalition of 40 organizations whose mission is to advocate  “for job development, training and placement for Syracuse’s unemployed- and under-employed” and  to  “ encourage the creation of conditions and resources for local businesses under-represented regarding municipal contracts.”

Contact:  Aggie Lane, 478-4571

One-Year Anniversary of Farmworker Ortiz’s Death Brings Attention to OSHA Local Emphasis Program

In Worker's Rights on February 6, 2014 at 9:35 am

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SYRACUSE, NY – February 5th marks the one-year anniversary of the death of dairy farmworker Francisco Ortiz. Francisco, of Veracruz, Mexico, who was crushed by a faulty auger while working on a small dairy farm in Ithaca, NY [see memorial slideshow]. He was survived by his son, Alejandro, and his wife, Mayra, who recounts that her husband had long complained about the ill-functioning machine that eventually took his life. Unfortunately, Francisco’s death was neither an isolated, nor an inevitable, occurrence. Since 2007, there have been at least twelve fatalities on New York dairy farms. An alarming five of these fatalities have occurred since 2011.

The Workers Center of Central NY (WCCNY) and the Worker Justice Center of NY (WJCNY) applaud the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) announcement in December 2013 to launch a Local Emphasis Program (LEP) in the dairy industry. The WCCNY and WJCNY strongly advocated for this program in July of 2013, when they organized the first delegation of dairy farmworkers to speak with OSHA representatives in Syracuse, NY. The new OSHA LEP promises to help reduce the risk of accidents and injuries for those whose dedicated labor has helped to drive the state’s economy, and made New York the leading yogurt-producing state in the nation.

The OSHA LEP focuses on reducing the so-called “dairy dozen” common occupational hazards on dairy farms. These include: drowning and inhalation of gases in manure storage facilities; erratic bulls and cows; shock hazards near faulty electrical systems; roll-over of skid-steer loaders and tractors; amputation or entanglement by unguarded power take-offs and transmission systems; crushing while servicing equipment; contact with or ingestion of hazardous chemicals; asphyxiation in confined spaces; falls from bunker silos; and hearing loss from noise generated by farm equipment. The LEP includes an education component that has already generated dozens of free health and safety trainings for dairy farm owners and workers to help dairy farms come into compliance.

The implementation of the LEP will mark the first time that New York dairies are subject to surprise inspections, which will begin in July 2014. Previously, OSHA enforcement officials were only called onto farms if an accident was reported, or if a complaint was lodged against an employer. Yet, for fear of retaliation, many workers are unable to speak up when they witness or experience acute workplace dangers, leaving such hazardous conditions to go unreported. Instead, they often leave their jobs to seek safer and more justly compensated opportunities. Said one 23-year old former New York dairy farmworker, who left the industry after nearly losing his eyesight when asked to apply a chemical he had not been trained to use: “I can’t risk my life for the $7.25 I’m making here.”

Even though farm businesses can reduce employee turnover—and improve their bottom lines—by providing a safer working environment, seven House members from Upstate New York are asking the federal government to indefinitely delay the surprise investigations and implementation of the LEP. Led by Representative Richard Hanna, the House members claim that it would result in “onerous fines.” However, the first year report of a similar LEP recently implemented in the Wisconsin dairy industry lists positive outcomes like increased awareness about workplace hazards and the fact that not one farm was put out of business as a result of the program. Rebecca Fuentes, worker advocate with WCCNY, calls the Representatives’ actions “an affront to basic dignity and respect for all farmworkers.” She further says: “We invite these politicians to meet with workers like Lazaro and David, whose testimonies of workplace injury were recently published in the Syracuse Post Standard. We all know that farming is a dangerous occupation and so we ask them, how many more fatalities and accidents are we willing to accept as proof that a program like this is needed?”

“While this program is not going to resolve all of the issues related to workplace health and safety, it is a step in the right direction,” explains Carly Fox, worker advocate with WJCNY. “We should still recall that farmworkers are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of workplace rights that most everyone else enjoys, including not having the right to overtime, collective bargaining, or even a weekly day off.” Cornell University doctoral student researcher Kathy Sexsmith adds that: “Latino immigrants working on dairy farms experience particular health and safety concerns due to language barriers and the fear to assert their rights. They also express great concern about the safety of their employers, the family members of their employers, and their co-workers. This LEP can help to protect the rights of all of those working on dairy farms to a safe workplace.”

We encourage OSHA to take further steps to ensure the rights of all workers on dairy farms to a safe and healthy workplace are protected. All farms, regardless of the number of employees, terms of the employment contract, and housing agreement should be required to comply with OSHA regulations, so that the needless deaths of workers like Francisco Ortiz are brought to an end.

Carly Fox, Education and Outreach Paralegal
Workplace Health and Safety Project
Worker Justice Center of NY
1187 Culver Road
Rochester, NY 14609
(585) 325-3050 ext. 20

“Local Folks Take on Big Corporation: The history of The Oswego County Messenger”

In Video Documentation, Worker's Rights on January 5, 2014 at 4:00 pm

The Social Justice Committee of the First Universalist Church of Central Square and the Workers’ Center of CNY present VOICES FOR WORKERS EQUALITY.  A monthly film and speaker series focusing on labor and equality. Hear Janet West Clerkin, of Parish, NY. Janet was a founding member of The Oswego County Messenger, a daily newspaper formed in 1981 by striking employees of The Palladium-Times in Oswego.

Visit the Indy Media Bambuser page to view the video at

Messenger Event