The New York Senate will be in session tomorrow and Majority Leader Pedro Espada is apparently looking to score points with New York City labor unions -- he's calling for passage of what upstate legislators call "the farm death bill."
The bill, the Farmworkers Omnibus Labor Standards Bill, AB 1867, has already passed the Assembly.
If it becomes law, the bill will require farmers to pay time-and-a-half for over time, allow farm workers to join labor unions and require a day off during harvest season. It will also require farmers to pay into the unemployment system, among other provisions.
The bill is sponsored by Catherine Nolan, who represents Queens. Assemblyman Steve Hawley once pinned her down during a floor debate into admitting that in her district contains "less than one farm."
Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer plans to vote Nay if the bill does come to a vote. He said even upstate farm workers he's spoken with are concerned that passage of the bill will cost them their livelihoods.
"They are alarmed about the bill," Ranzenhofer said. "They're concerned about losing their jobs because farms will be going out of business."
Area farmers and farm workers alike tell both Hawley and Ranzenhofer that many of the issues the bill is trying to address is already taken care of by farmers. Most farmers do supply workers with adequate housing and health care. Workers are paid for all the hours they work, but not necessarily time-and-a-half. Because farm work is seasonal, the legislators note that a great deal of work must be packed into a short amount of time.
But by mandating such services, allowing labor unions to get involved and increasing government oversight, the bill will drive up costs on farmers tremendously.
The supporters of the bill just don't understand farming and that without farms, there is no food, both Hawley and Ranzenhofer say.
"The sponsors are from New York City," Ranzenhofer said. "They don't understand that the relationship between farmers and workers is mutually beneficial. This is a New York City union issue and really has nothing to do with farming in Upstate New York."
It's unclear just how the Senate will vote on the measure. It could go either way.