Federal judge issues restraining order on aspects of NYS farmworkers fair labor law

Jan 3, 2020

A judge with the U.S. District Court in Western New York issued a temporary restraining order on certain aspects of a new farmworkers fair labor law late on Monday, two days before the law took effect. 

Judge Lawrence Vilardo ruled that New York state is prohibited from enacting some aspects of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act. 

Dolores Bustamante is a farmworker originally from Mexico. She says while she is treated well on the farm where she works, other migrant workers in the community are not.
Credit Photo provided by Dolores Bustamante

Most farmworkers will still be able to receive protections under the new law. These include a weekly day of rest, an eight-hour workday, overtime pay for work over 60 hours a week, increased insurance benefits, and collective bargaining rights.

But the ruling blocks those protections for those in administrative, executive, or shareholder positions and farm owners’ family members.

A coalition of vegetable and dairy farms filed a last-minute lawsuit claiming that the laws definitions were too vague, and contradicted federal law.

Farmer Christian Yunker is part of that coalition.

“We’re going to work closely with state officials over the next couple of weeks to hopefully have some resolution to this,” he said.

Richard Stup, agricultural workforce specialist at Cornell University, said the law is currently flawed.

“The inconsistencies are there and they are certainly obvious to see if you read the text and read it carefully,” he said.

“Sometimes we were talking about farmworkers, other times farm laborers, and other times farm employees, and it’s hard to keep that straight who is affected at different times,” he added.

Dolores Bustamante works on an apple farm in Wayne County. She said the new law is important for many farmworkers in the community.

“They work in really difficult conditions and many times they’re not given days to rest,” she said in Spanish.

She said that after a long fight for these labor protections, she’s grateful that the law is now in place.

“It feels good because for so much time, for so many years people have been fighting for change,” she said, speaking in Spanish.

The temporary halt on certain measures will continue at least until a court hearing on Jan. 24.