Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act Testimony

Published on May 3rd, 2019

Testimony on the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act at a regional Joint Hearing of the NYS Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Senate Standing Committee on Labor

Presented by Shannon Kelly, Chief Operating Officer, Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster

Seelig Theatre at SUNY Sullivan, 112 College Road, Loch Sheldrake, NY

May 2, 2019

Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to testify
on this important legislative issue facing our state. My name is Shannon Kelly.
I am the Chief Operating Officer of Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan, and
Ulster. As one of the human services agencies of Catholic Charities of the
Archdiocese of New York, our organization is committed to building a
compassionate and just society. Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan, and
Ulster serves the homeless, the hungry, those with emotional or physical
disabilities, as well as immigrants, the marginalized and the vulnerable of this
tri-county region. Last year, we served more than 42,000 individuals and
families, regardless of race, religion, or ability to pay.

I speak today on behalf of our regional agency, as well as
for Catholic Charities agencies across New York State, and in solidarity with
the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the Catholic Bishops
of New York State. Catholic Charities and the Catholic Conference have been
advocating for passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act for more
than two decades. At the same time, the Church has been working on the ground
to meet the spiritual and material needs of farmworkers and their families –
through Catholic Charities, Catholic parishes, and individual clergy, religious
and lay people.

It is through this lens that I deliver my remarks today. Let
me begin by making one thing clear: Support for basic rights for farmworkers is
not anti-farmer. At least it need not
be. Our organization serves farm families and farmworkers alike. We are in this
community and are well aware of the unique nature of farming and the challenges
facing farmers, from uncontrollable weather factors, to the pressures of modern
economies, to injuries, the high cost of maintenance, distribution of a
perishable product and competition from foreign markets. We need our family
farms, for our local economy and for our very subsistence.

But at the same time, just as farming has evolved
technologically, it must also evolve to a 21st century understanding
of fair working conditions for farmworkers. We must ensure that farmworkers are
treated humanely and with dignity, in the same way we work to ensure other
workers of our state are treated. This is not about putting farmworkers ahead
of farms. You can’t support the farmworkers without supporting the farms, and
vice versa. Both depend on and need the other.

Justice and human dignity demand, however, that changes come
to the industry in terms of how workers are treated. It is important to
remember that farmworkers do not seek special rights; they seek only the same
rights guaranteed to other workers in every other sector – the right to
overtime pay, the right to a day of rest every week, the right to workers
compensation, the right to sanitary housing conditions, and the right to
collectively bargain.

We hear and appreciate the concerns of those who argue that
providing fair treatment to this population will raise prices for consumers,
but we can truly make the same case about any other sector of the workforce,
and we do not allow that to stop us from doing what is right.

If New York is truly the progressive state that we say we
are, how do we justify this continued unfair playing field? We can’t. We are
faced now with an opportunity. We must grab that chance and not let it slip
away yet again.

I hope and pray that the Legislature will work
collaboratively with the farmworkers and our family farms to craft meaningful
reform this year, one that recognizes the unique contributions of our farmers,
and the human dignity of our farmworkers.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today,
and God bless you.

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