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Farm Workers March for Labor Rights

By Eileen Buckley

Albion, NY – About 200 farm workers are demanding equal labor rights. The group is heading on foot to the State Capitol. Over the last two days, they have been marching through Western New York farm country. They left from Albion over the weekend.

Heavy rains did not stop determined farm workers and their families from beginning their trek to Albany. They rallied Saturday in front of a house in Orleans County. They say that is where some farm workers were forced into "slave-like" conditions by farm labor crew leaders. Those leaders pleaded guilty last December in federal court to charges of trafficking and forced labor, and face sentencing this month. Bill Abom of the Rural and Migrant Ministry in Brockport says farm workers were scheduled to leave Rochester Monday and plan to be in Albany by Tuesday.

"This is a way of letting the people of New York know that excluding farm workers from basic labor rights and protections is something we should be ashamed of," Abom said. "These are the people that bring food to our tables. This is an effort to let the New York State Senate and Majority Leader Joe Bruno know that they need to do the right thing and grant farm workers equal rights."

Abom says they are demanding that Bruno bring a fair labor practices act for farmworkers to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill has already been approved in the State Assembly.

"There is actually a majority of the State Senate who favor it," Abom said. "But under Bruno's leadership, the bill has died in committee. We are hoping that our Western New York Senator, George Maziarz, who chairs the labor committee, will help move that bill out of committee and put it to the floor for a vote because we believe it would pass."

Bruno has agreed to meet with the farm workers. They will present him with a state-wide petition.

Abom says agriculture is a major industry in the Western New York region, employing thousands of farm workers. He stresses that the campaign is not against the industry -- but is an effort to improve the poor living and working conditions that some of these workers endure.