Northampton City Council votes to endorse the Fairness for Farmworkers Act

The Council also reviewed the new redistricting map 


By Jules Marsh

On Thursday October 7th, the Northampton City Council held its regularly scheduled meeting, most of which was spent listening to public comment in support of the  Fairness to Farm Workers Act and engaging with City Clerk Pamela Powers about the redistricting process required due to local 2020 Federal Census data. 

Fairness to Farmworkers Act 

The resolution which is co-sponsored by Councilors Rachel Maiore (Ward 7), Marianne LaBarge (Ward 6), and Michael Quinlan (Ward 1) endorses the upcoming state legislation, the Fairness to Farmworkers Act (FFA), which would reform farm workers’ wage and hours laws. Under current law, agricultural employers are not required to afford farmworkers any days of rest, nor to pay any overtime rate. Agricultural employers can also currently pay farmworkers a poverty-level subminimum wage of $8 per hour. The associated bills would allow farm workers to earn the same minimum wage as other workers in the state, to earn overtime pay after 55 hours of work in a week, and to take one day of rest each week. 

Councilor Maiore introduced the resolution saying that the FFA is an attempt to correct a historic wrong. She described her own humbling experience of a day of farming, noting the repetitive movements that farm workers make at work. She clarified that the resolution is “not an adversarial issue. We value our small farms. Most farmers do pay more than $8. When you put money in [the] pockets of people it is good for the local economy, and good for health.” Councilor LaBarge shared that when reviewing the current farm worker labor laws, “I couldn’t believe what I was reading, in my heart. I could not believe this was happening.” She also said that it was clear that current labor laws were a part of a “racial problem.” Councilor Quinlan quoted FDR saying, “The best customer is a well paid worker,” and noted the problem of disparity between what owners and CEOs make compared to what workers make. Councilor Karen Foster (Ward 2) thanked the co-sponsors and commented that America’s appetite for cheap food leads to worker exploitation and animal suffering. 

Claudia Quintero, an attorney for the Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers shared with the Council, “We have 13,000 farmworkers in the state of Massachusetts, many of which are not voters, and cannot make an impact on the policies that will affect them. Be the progressive state you say you are. We have a lot of farmers that pay more than $8, that take care of their workforce. It is highly skilled labor that deserves to be valued.” During public comment Margaret Sawyer from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center translated the testimony of local farmer Audi Gonzolez, who told the council, “It is not fair for our pay to be so low, especially with families, it is not possible to survive off that amount. People see us as machines and they don’t value our work. It is a dream of mine for people to value the work of farmworkers.” The resolution passed unanimously in its first reading. 

Redistricting

City Clerk Pam Powers gave a presentation explaining the map created by the Reprecincting Working Group in response to a map made by the state which incorporates updated population data provided by the 2020 Federal Census. The group is an ad hoc committee that assembles every ten years to review state recommendations based on the most recent census numbers. The group denied the state-made map and opted to create its own because of its concerns over voting locations and its priority to maintain the integrity of local historical maps. Powers described the state’s version as having “huge shifts” while the committee made “moderate shifts.” In the committee’s proposed map, Ward 2 has been reduced in size because of higher density population areas and Wards 6 and 7 have increased in geographical size due to population growth. It also moves some Ward 4 residents into Ward 3 because the committee felt residents in the selected population align themselves with Ward 3, not downtown Northampton. Powers clarified that the changes would not take place until after the November municipal elections and noted that the changes would affect two school committee positions because the ward for which they are elected would change boundaries during their term. 

Due to an end of the month deadline, the Council voted to skip the normal procedure of referring the ordinance which contains the ward boundaries to the Legislative Matters committee, and to instead send it to its first reading at the next council meeting. In a 7-2 vote, Councilors Foster and Jim Nash (Ward 3) voted to send it to the Legislative Matters while the rest of the council voted not to do so. 

Accessible Parking 

Regarding a current Ordinance on the docket that addresses parking downtown, Councilor Foster requested to change the language in the ordinance from the word “handicapped” to “accessible.” The Transportation and Parking Commission (TPC) felt it did not have the ability to alter this language because it would not be consistent with the wording elsewhere in the City. However, according to Cyndi Quinn, the TPC is in favor of the change if the Council would like to vote to make this change. The Council will address the changes as it reviews the upcoming ordinances. 

More Gas! More Diesel!

A public hearing will be held regarding a request from the Global Montello Group Corp. to amend its license for flammables and combustion at the Shell gas station at 506 Pleasant St., so that it can add two more underground storage containers for 1-24,000 gallons of gasoline and for 1-12,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The hearing will take place on Thursday, Oct 21st during the City Council meeting at 7:05pm. As we noted earlier this year, the expansion of a different gas station caused controversy, as residents expressed their disapproval of the project over climate concerns.


Jules Marsh is a co-editor at The Shoestring. They are alive in Northampton.

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