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New York State Senate and Assembly Report, Separate & Unequal: New York's Farmworkers, 1995

Separate and Unequal: NY's Farmworkers

Separate and Unequal: NY's Farmworkers

Cornell University Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, KRO_23_13_3160_B16F51_185
Document Description
Report by the New York State Senate–Assembly Joint Task Force on Farm Worker Issues, April 1995.
What does a “joint task force” in this report mean?
Why was there a need to create this investigative committee?
What were the growers’ arguments for their policy of treating migrant workers differently than other laborers?
As a result of the findings, what recommendations did the task force make?
What other industries in New York employ migrant workers? Why?
Describe living conditions in migrant camps.
What is the main health problem facing farm workers?
Historical Challenges
Create a poster with labor as its theme. In the text, use the following terms: right to organize, collective bargaining, overtime compensation, a day of rest, and disability insurance. Tie the theme to the rights of migrant workers.
Find photographs on the web of migrant workers during the Great Depression. Make a collage. What are the similarities to, and differences between, migrants today?
Do you agree or disagree that migrant workers should expect lower wages and working conditions in return for having the opportunity to work in the United States? Explain your reasoning.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: Investigate why migrant workers around the world have high rates of HIV infection. Highlight on a map the countries with high rates of HIV infection. Differentiate countries as to whether they import or export workers. What are your findings, and what conclusions can you make?
Art: Draw a picture of what you think a migrant camp might look like, using the description in the report.


Historical Context
New York State has had a need for seasonal farm workers ever since World War II. With an exodus from rural communities and family farms since the 1960s to the present, the need for agricultural and seasonal workers has increased. Because the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) expanded its presence in the southwestern states, more Mexican and Central American migrant workers made their way up the East Coast of the United States during the 1990s. Haitians also made up a significant percentage of the farm workers during the 1990s.

A migrant worker is someone working on a regular basis away from his or her home, if indeed he/she even has a home. The term overlaps with foreign worker, and some official definitions treat the two as identical. The United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families defines migrant worker as "a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national." The Convention has been ratified by many nations that supply foreign labor, but it has not been ratified by the United States, Germany, or Japan (among other nations that depend on cheap foreign labor).

In the United States, the term is most commonly used to describe low-wage workers performing manual labor in agriculture. Today in Europe and the United States, these workers are often immigrants who are not working on valid work visas. The United States has enacted the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (29 U.S. C. Ch. 20) to remove the restraints on commerce caused by activities detrimental to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers; to require farm labor contractors to register; and to assure necessary protections for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, agricultural workers, agricultural associations, and agricultural employers.

However, the term migrant worker may also refer to any person who works at seasonal jobs and who moves around from one job to another. The term is not often used to describe those who work in higher-wage fields perhaps because it has a stigma attached to it because of its extensive use to describe low-wage farm laborers and illegal immigrants. Examples of professions (some of them quite lucrative) whose workers could be called migrant workers include electricians in the construction industry, other construction workers who travel from one construction job to another (often in different cities), wild land firefighters in the western United States, temporary/roving consulting workers, and possibly even interstate truck drivers.

Starting at the end of the American Civil War, hobos were the migrant workers who performed much of this agricultural work, using freight railroads as their means of transportation to new jobs. During the collapse of capitalism in the Great Depression, so-called Okies who fled the Dust Bowl were a significant source of temporary farm labor.
Essential Question
How does granting civil rights impact the economic and social aspects of a society?
Check for Understanding
Identify the key ideas of this document and explain how the rights of the workers impact the economic and social aspects of the community.