18 ag organizations ask governor to defend industry against NYCLU lawsuit

Staff Reports Posted 7 June 2016 at 12:00 am

File photo by Tom Rivers – A cow bellows at the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds in Knowlesville in this photo from July 2013. Dairy is the biggest sector of agriculture in NY.

A coalition of 18 farm organizations on Monday sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, insisting that he defend a state constitutional statute that makes it difficult for agricultural workers to collectively bargain.

The governor last month announced the state would not contest a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The governor’s position was cheered by advocates for farmworkers, but criticized by farmers and ag organizations who say collective bargaining could threaten the industry.

“As representatives of the approximately 35,500 family-operated farms in New York and supporting agribusinesses, we are extremely disappointed in your decision to abandon the families growing and raising food across this state by not defending the state’s labor laws against the NYCLU constitutional lawsuit,” the coalition of leaders wrote to the governor on June 6.

“Our organizations represent the vast diversity of New York’s agricultural community and have partnered with you for the better part of six years to continue to strengthen New York’s rural communities through the good jobs and opportunities provided by farms. We have worked together on reducing government red-tape that was strangling economic development and growth. Together, we have lauded new processing businesses and the emersion of new agriculture-related industries.”

The letter was signed by leaders from the following organizations: New York Farm Bureau, Agri-Mark, Inc., Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (Northeast Area), Empire State Forest Products Association, Empire State Potato Growers, Inc., Farm Credit East, Harness Horse Breeders of New York State, NY Apple Association, Inc., NY Corn and Soybean Growers Association, NY State Agribusiness Association, NY State Grange, NY State Maple Producers Association, NY State Turfgrass Association, NY State Vegetable Growers Association, NY Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc., Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, Northeast Dairy Producers Association, Inc., and Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc.

“The reasons that agriculture was exempt from collective bargaining by the state in 1937 are still valid today,” the ag leaders wrote in their letter. “Agriculture is reliant on Mother Nature and not the controlled climate of a factory. Farm schedules are determined by the weather forecast, the ripening of crops, and the needs of livestock. The current law recognizes this, and the need for food to be grown right here in our state. Combined with already higher taxes, a stifling regulatory environment, and a minimum wage increase this year, collective bargaining would make the continued operation of many family farms untenable. Farmers, who we have always contended are tied to the land, are now seriously investigating moving their businesses out of state and closing their doors. Your actions this year have left them feeling abandoned by the state they call home.”

Agriculture remains a bedrock of the rural economy with $5.5 billion in sales of farm products state-wide in 2012, including $150 million in Orleans County. However, the ag leaders say the industry faces many challenges.

“We strongly urge you to reconsider your position regarding the NYCLU lawsuit and instead defend and uphold the laws of this state, which recognize the unique and very challenging circumstances that farmers in the Northeast, and in particular, New York State, must already overcome in order to produce food for our residents,” the letter concludes.