We believe that achieving systemic change is necessary to a holistic worker justice agenda and that reform of our nation’s immigration system is an essential component of achieving justice for all low-wage workers. WJCNY has been a driving force in upstate New York on local, state, and federal campaigns to improve standards for low-wage workers, including efforts to increase wage rates and eliminate wage theft, provide equal access to identification for immigrant residents, and advocate for the rights of workers in specific industries that lack adequate protections.
- Advocating for OSHA to the launch a Local Emphasis Program (LEP) targeting dairy farms throughout New York State in response to the high number of deaths and accidents related to unsafe working conditions for dairy farmworkers
- Helping to spearhead, expand, and steer the New York State Coalition to Increase the Minimum Wage that led to passage legislation that will raise the minimum wage in New York State incrementally to $9/hour
- Serving as the primary upstate liaison to New York State Department of Labor to enhance enforcement of basic labor standards and achieving reform of the former “Rural Representatives” system to the new Agricultural Specialists program and the Labor Standards Division
- Enhancing language access policies statewide for immigrant victims of domestic violence
- Providing leadership in the formation of the Upstate Workers’ Center Alliance, a new coalition of worker centers and worker advocacy organizations in Upstate New York
New York State Legislative and Administrative Priorities for 2014
- Pass the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (S1743/A1792) that would end New York’s discriminatory policy of excluding farm workers—the backbone of our economy—from basic labor protections such as overtime, day of rest, collective bargaining, unemployment insurance, and other basic labor standards.
- Restore equal access to driver’s licenses for all New Yorkers who are able to establish their identity and residence—thereby meeting basic transportation needs of workers commuting to their place of employment, improving public safety by lowering accident rates, reducing insurance premiums for all state residents, and bolstering economic activity.
- Pass the Healthy Workplace Bill (S3863/A4965) to provide adequate legal redress for employees who have been subjected to abusive treatment at their workplace, regardless of whether the abuse was based on a protected category such as gender, race, or national origin.
- Enhance New York State Department of Labor’s enforcement of basic labor laws by leveraging greater collective resources, ensuring that anti-retaliation protections are aggressively enforced, and strategic enforcement by the Agricultural Specialists to improve compliance on rural farms throughout New York State. Urging the governor and state legislature to restore funding to NYSDOL to enable the Labor Standards Division to restore investigative capacity, drastically reduced by budget cuts in recent years.
- Pass the New York State Dream Act (A2597 / S2378) to allow undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements to access state financial aid and scholarships for higher education.
- Strengthen state anti-trafficking laws and penalties (S2135/A2240), including standards that apply to labor trafficking. Reinstate funds authorized by the 2008 Safe Harbor Act to provide critical services for child trafficking victims such as 24-hour crisis intervention and medical care, development of a long-term residential housing facility that offers specialized services and resources for law enforcement training and community-based programs.
- Pass a comprehensive Women’s Equity Agenda that would address pay inequities based on gender, require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women under state law, prohibit employers from denying work or promotion to workers because they have children, protect workers from sexual harassment regardless of size of employer, strengthen human trafficking laws by removing the “coercion” requirement for victims who are minors and increasing penalties, and allow victims of domestic violence to provide testimony by video-conference so they are not forced to be in close physical proximity to their abuser.
- Restore and expand legislative funding for civil legal services, particularly for organizations serving large geographic areas with limited resources, immigrant service providers, and groups that are currently ineligible for Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding.
- Further implementation of the Language Access Executive Order to ensure that agencies, particularly in upstate and rural parts of New York that deal with immigrant populations provide meaningful access to limited-English proficient populations.
- Support legislation that would amend State General Business Law to curb unscrupulous practices by employment agencies by prohibiting them from charging “advanced fees” to low-wage workers, increasing penalties for violations, and creating a private right of action allowing low-wage workers to sue agencies that have exploited them.
WJCNY serves on the steering committee of the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign, which aims to remove the exclusion of farmworkers from basic labor protections in New York State through the passage of the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act. Despite the importance of the agricultural industry in New York State, agricultural workers are excluded from state and federal labor protections that provide workers in other industries with basic rights to overtime pay, a day of rest, disability insurance, and collective bargaining protections. For many years, Farmworker Legal Services of New York played an active role in the campaign to end farmworker exclusions from New York State labor law. As WJCNY, we are continuing the fight for justice for New York State farmworkers.
As members of the New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform Campaign, WJCNY is a leader in the fight for fair and humane immigration reform through our participation in national mobilizations and through our direct engagement with local immigrant communities and their allies. We believe that comprehensive federal immigration reform must include a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country, as well as strong worker protections for all workers–including future immigrants whose labor our nation relies upon to fuel economic growth. We strongly oppose enforcement measures that divide families and violate immigrants’ rights to due process. We recognize that the fight for fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform is a critical component of the larger struggle for immigrant justice, but that legislation alone will not provide the full transformation we seek. Our legislative advocacy aims to complement our other program areas, which focus on immigrant community engagement, leadership development, and training of low-wage immigrant workers for ongoing participation in movements for social change.