Farm Bureau says ‘significant problems’ with new farmworker legislation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 June 2019 at 7:43 am

Photo from Grow NY Farms: These farmworkers and farmers are pictured in Albany on June 12 during a rally where farmers and workers shared concerns that a proposed farm labor law could reduce hours and ultimately the paychecks for workers, while putting New York farms at a competitive disadvantage with other states and countries.

New York Farm Bureau is reacting this morning to the passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act on Wednesday by the State Assembly and State Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he supports the bill with provides overtime for farmworkers after 60 hours worked in a week, collective bargaining, and a right to a day off each week. (If a farmworker chooses to work on an off day, the farm needs to pay time-and-a-half.)

“Last night was a difficult day for agriculture as a flawed labor bill passed the NYS Legislature,” Farm Bureau stated on its Facebook page this morning. “The entire farm community worked incredibly hard this session to educate and work with majority lawmakers who controlled the bill. We thank everyone who did all they could to try to mitigate the original proposed legislation. While we moved away from a 40 hour overtime threshold and obtained a no strike clause, there were still significant problems.”

Farm Bureau is part of the Grow NY Farms coalition which includes the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, Northeast Dairy Foods Association, Northeast Dairy Producers Association, New York Apple Association, New York Kitchen, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, New York Association of Agricultural Educators and Unshackle Upstate.

Grow NY Farms  released this statement following on Wednesday after the legislation was approved in the Assembly and Senate:

For months, New York’s agriculture community worked with a purpose to meet a fundamental goal of developing farm labor legislation that would protect the combined interests of farms and farmworkers. We negotiated in good faith with many majority lawmakers who were interested in hearing from those who would be directly impacted by the legislation. Political realities meant we had to come find a middle ground that was mutually beneficial.

We thought we had achieved that goal with a bill that while posing significant challenges for a struggling Industry, it was a vast improvement than where we started. Unfortunately there were some flaws thrown into the legislation in the final days of this legislative session that made the bill unacceptable. Despite the passage of this flawed legislation (S.6578/A.8419), we have not given up on finding a way to fix those flaws.

These flaws include:

• A requirement that wages paid on the seventh consecutive day of work – are based on an overtime rate – if a farmworker waives their right to a day of rest.

• The definition of family fails to recognize the role of close relatives such as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins – and would make their participation in farm activities subject to the new statute.

• The creation of a wage board lacks New York’s key agency expert on agricultural issues – the State Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

• Elections involving the ability to form a union lack the integrity of a secret ballot.

• At this time, we believe it is in the interest of all parties to continue working together to address these flaws and move forward with legislation that farmers, farmworkers and the labor community can mutually embrace and reflect the spirit of the dialogue and discussion that has taken place in recent months.

It is also important to note the significant role played by all the farmers, farmworkers and lawmakers who worked to build consensus on this issue.

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