June Forum Recap: Sustainability and Social Justice

August 6, 2018

by Karen Hindie   The June GreenHomeNYC Forum, Sustainability and Social Justice, explored how less advantaged communities can benefit from sustainable development. Our speakers focused on construction, landscaping and agriculture-related jobs for low-income workers. Speakers Matthew Caruso, Program Manager for Intervine, a division of the Hope Program, and Thomas Perry, Bronx Program Director, described training and transitional jobs that prepared workers for permanent positions in construction and landscaping. Jose Chapa, Legislative Campaign Coordinator of the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign, represents farmworkers and agricultural workers across the state. He described the difficulties farmworkers have and attempts to correct them.   Hope Through Sustainable Job Training Caruso and Perry spoke about the Hope Program, which enables people who have difficulty obtaining a job to acquire the skills necessary to start and maintain sustainable careers. The Hope Program’s Bronx location focuses on green construction and building operation skills through the Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) training program and transitional paid jobs for graduates of the program at Intervine and Cool Roofs. Through the SSBx 12-week training program, students are provided classroom education, and experience in creating and maintaining green infrastructure. They earn industry certifications in safety and basic construction skills. They also receive assistance with resume writing and interview skills.   Graduates of the SSBx training program can move on to transitional jobs at Intervine or Cool Roofs. Intervine focuses on green roof installation and maintenance, storm water collection system maintenance, and landscaping services. Cool Roofs, a New York City Small Business Services initiative, provides a 10-week paid, transitional, on-the-job training in the application and maintenance of reflective roof coatings. Partnering organizations such as the Hunts Point Food Market, OnFour (solar panels) and Manhattan Construction Company, offer participants permanent jobs. Due to the comprehensive approach of the Intervine program, there is a 74% job placement rate and a 77% one-year job retention rate.   Advocating for Farmworkers Jose Chapa advocates for farmworkers in Albany, educates workers on their rights throughout the state, and brings awareness to the community at large regarding farmworkers’ exclusions. He discussed the fact that New York State farmworkers still lack the rights to a day of rest, overtime pay, and the right to bargain collectively. Farmworkers are excluded from key labor protections under both federal and state law regardless of the farm they work at. Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act protect workers’ right to overtime pay and to collective bargaining, but both laws have specific exemptions for farmworkers.  The New York State Labor Relations Act provides workers the right to organize and bargain, but excludes farmworkers. In addition, some workers suffer from substandard housing, sexual harassment by supervisors or fellow workers, and health impairment due to pesticides.   The Legislative Campaign experienced some successes, including gaining the right to clean drinking water and sanitation in the fields for workers. However, there are still exclusions that need to be addressed. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (S2721/A4189), which would address these exclusions, was brought up in the 2018 NYS legislative session. There was an Albany lobbying day in May and advocates were encouraged by support from celebrities. Although the bill has passed in the Assembly in the past, it failed to do so this year due to opposition by the Farm Bureau.   Caruso and Perry emphasized the goals of helping low-income people build more sustainable lives and communities by training them for stable jobs with room for advancement. They also highlighted the need for increasing the health and sustainability of NYC through green jobs training and environmental initiatives. Chapa encouraged people to volunteer and donate to help the advocacy and educational work continue. We should all be concerned about justice for the workers who produce our food (and wine)!