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Workers and activists to protest alleged abuse at Lowville dairy farm

Worker Center of Central New York
Activists and farm workers create posters in preparation for the May Day protest at Mark's Farm.

Farm workers and activists are planning a protest this morning at a dairy farm in Lowville. They want to draw attention to the alleged abuse of a worker at the hands of a farm supervisor.  Rally organizers say many undocumented Hispanic workers face physical abuse, substandard housing and wage theft on dairy farms across the state.

On March 24, Rebecca Fuentes from the Worker’s Center of Central New York answered a phone call. A worker named Francisco said  he was in pain. He was working at Mark’s Farm, a dairy farm in Lowville. Francisco said he’d been kicked in the head and beaten by the farm’s manager after he complained about having  to work on his day off.

Fuentes says she gets a lot of calls like this.

“Workers  are very afraid to speak up and sometimes they get hurt and they just lose their job,” said Fuentes.

Fuentes arranged a ride to the hospital for Francisco. After a visit to the ER, and with the Worker’s Center’s help, he reported the incident to the state police. Fuentes says the rally on Friday will be a  show of support for  workers still at Mark’s Farm, who she believes are still badly treated.

“It’s just this disregard for the workers and we hear over and over that worker’s feel that the cows are more important than the workers, ” Fuentes said.

Lindsey Peck is the spokesperson for Mark’s Farm. She says the farm’s 40 Hispanic workers are treated fairly. She says she can’t speak in detail about Francisco’s case because of the pending investigation. But says the farm defends the supervisor’s actions, saying it was to ensure a safe work environment.

“We have heavy equipment, large animals, there is a lot of activity going on. And we do have a zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol, and any other questionable behavior and recently our workers violated that policy and we believe our manager worked in the best interest of the employee making the claim as well as others on the dairy,” Peck said.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of undocumented Hispanic immigrants working on North Country dairy farms. Farmers say there’re the only ones who will do the work. And they say most are treated well.

Jose Cañas worked on Mark’s Farm for three years. He says he was treated well, but saw poor working conditions.He said he had to sleep on the floor some nights and he witnessed a manager hit another worker. He heard about similar abuse  involving friends he’d invited to work on the farm.

Organizers of today’s rally in front of Mark’s farm hope to draw attention to what they say are substandard conditions on dairy farms across the state.