Cuomo signs farm workers bill, farm owners voice concerns

Cuomo signs farm workers bill, farm owners voice concerns
Farmers are taking advantage of dry weather to plant crops

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation giving farm workers collective bargaining rights, overtime pay and other labor protections afforded in non-farm industries.

The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act eliminates a provision in New York state law that prohibits agricultural workers from unionizing.

It also extends worker compensation benefits to all types of farms and guarantees workers at least one day off a week.

The measure also:

- Provides for 60-hour work week for farm workers

- Requires overtime rate at one and one-half times normal rate

- Makes provisions of unemployment insurance law applicable to farm laborers and reduces costs to farmers for ineligible workers

- Ensures sanitary codes apply to all farm worker housing, regardless of the number of occupants

- Removes a payroll threshold for requiring farm labor employers to obtain workers' compensation coverage

- Allows farm laborers to receive disability and Paid Family Leave benefits

- Requires reporting of injuries to employers of farm laborers

“This new law is not just a great achievement in terms of the effect on the human condition, it’s also a milestone in the crusade for social justice,” Governor Cuomo said in a news release. “By signing this bill into law, 100,000 farmers and their families will have better lives and will finally have the same protections that other workers have enjoyed for over 80 years.”

Farm owners have told lawmakers the act would force them to cut back on employment and that a workers’ strike at a busy time of year would be devastating.

Grow NY Farms, a coalition of farmers and industry groups, said the legislation fails to address the challenges and needs of farmers and farm workers.

It said it has been seeking to correct four flaws contained in the new legislation.

It wanted the following changes:

- Applying a standard wage rate for farm workers who decide to work on the prescribed day of rest

- Expanding the family farm definition to include close relatives such as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins

- Modifying the composition and timeline of the wage board

- Preserving secret balloting for both farm workers and farmers

In a news release, north country dairy farmers voiced concerns.

“New York’s farmers have been at the table from the beginning asking for a workable solution, a bill that would provide the balance agriculture would need to sustain itself as an important job creator and food provider in this state. Common ground should have considered what farms can afford and the opportunities our employees will lose as a result of this law. In the end, our reasonable requests were cast aside, even though there was support for a moderated bill from legislators on both sides of the aisle. What was also dismissed by many of New York’s leaders is the dignity and respect our farm families have long provided to the men and women we need and work alongside every day. While the final legislation signed by the Governor is certainly better than the original version of the bill, it will still lead to significant financial challenges for farmers and the continued erosion of our rural communities,” said David Fisher, New York Farm Bureau president and dairy farmer in Madrid.

“Dairy represents New York’s largest agricultural industry. Our farms must operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in order to care for our cows and produce fresh, nutritious milk. We certainly appreciate that legislators who listened to the many voices expressed by stakeholders in trying to negotiate a bill fair to everyone, but we were disappointed in language added in the final hours that has the potential to both negatively impact the long-term viability of our farms and the earning potential and livelihood of our workers,” said Jon Greenwood, president of Northeast Dairy Producers Association and dairy farmer in Canton.

State Senator Patty Ritchie said the signing of the means that already struggling farmers are going to have to work even harder to make ends meet.

“In the past five years, our state has lost 2,000 farms. This new law—which places the fate of our agriculture industry into the hands of a newly unelected wage board with zero accountability—will saddle farmers with another $300 million in costs. Simply put, they cannot afford it,” said Ritchie (R. - 48th District). “This new law puts farmers and the industry as a whole in jeopardy. Instead of pushing for measures that will help family grow and prosper, advocates of this legislation have instead opted to deliver a gut-punch to the future of farming in New York State.”

The law takes effect January 1.

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