The bill is called the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. It proposes new labor mandates, regulations, and financial burdens for farmers without full consideration of what farmers have to do in order to harvest crops. It has passed the Assembly in the past but failed to gain the Senate’s approval. This year, with the Senate and the Assembly under Democratic control and the Governor signaling his support, there is a better chance it could become law.
In general, the bill fails to recognize the uniqueness of farming compared to other industries. Farmers put nearly all of their investments in crops during planting and growing seasons and have limited time to get them off the field at harvest time. Work times are centered around harvest time and crop care and vary greatly according to weather. As such, under both New York State Labor Law and the National Labor Relations Act, farm workers are excluded from being called employees to prevent workers from striking during a harvest. This bill would enable collective bargaining which could result in a strike during harvest times and, for some, cause a total crop loss. In addition, a strike during harvest time could effectively put the farmer out of business because they would not be able to recoup their investments and, as a result, may not be able to plant the following spring.
On top of collective bargaining, the bill specifies that a farm work day is 8 hours, caps the workweek at 40 hours, and mandates farmers pay overtime. This proposal shows again how out of touch its sponsors are with the realities of farming. Crop output and harvest schedules are determined by weather and a variety of other elements. If it rains for three days straight, little work will get done in the fields and farm workers have to make up for lost time when the weather clears or the crops will be lost. In addition, mandating the farmers pay overtime will force farmers to cut hours or hire more farm workers in order to avoid paying overtime.
New York Farm Bureau, which opposes the legislation, say their farm workers do not want the 8-hour workday instituted because there are only limited times of the year when they can work. Previous studies done by Cornell indicated that the majority of farm workers prefer a 55-hour work week because, again, they cannot work the farms in the off season. Farmers also report that many farm workers come to New York because of the friendly labor conditions and minimum wage mandates already in place. With tight labor markets, if farmers in this state did not treat their workers fairly, they would not have a workforce.
The state has made strides in recent years to support farmers with programs like Taste of NY, Pride of NY, and Farm to School programs. Other programs have incentivized growers to make investments in certain crops and New York has also provided grant dollars to first-time farmers. The state should continue programs like this that support farmers, and encourage people to enter into farming rather discourage them by passing bills that over-regulate and make it more costly to do business here.
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