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Fruits of labor: This is the last Labor Day farmworkers will be denied bargaining rights and other basic workplace protections


Two decades ago, on Labor Day 1999, this column marked the American workers’ holiday by noting that “the people who picked the food for the parties and the cookouts” were toiling like they did every day in the fields and orchards and vineyards and dairies.

“They have no right to even one day off a week. Nor to overtime pay, workers’ compensation, disability and unemployment insurance. They are barred from collective bargaining.”

We were optimistic our effort to push labor rights for field hands in New York State would produce reform and “then, hopefully, next Labor Day, the state’s tens of thousands of farm workers will be able to share in labor’s victories,” while acknowledging that “a great crusade is not won in a day.” We didn’t know it would take 20 years.

But there will be no more Labor Day editorials pleading for the Farm Workers’ Fair Labor Practices Act, with the bill’s passage in June and signing into law by Gov. Cuomo in our newsroom in July. This is the final Labor Day in New York that excludes farm workers from the protections of the laws enjoyed by all other employees.

The city streets are far from farm country, but the earliest Labor Day celebration in America was in New York City during the first week of September 1882. Five years later, Albany drafted the first bill to create the holiday. On June 28, 1894, Congress followed suit for the nation as a whole.

Now New York has finally extended the promise of rights to the last group of workers — the forgotten workers who feed all of us. Enjoy your day off, and your barbecues.