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June 24, 2009 - 6:43pm

Genesee County Farms take protest drive on Thruway, slowing traffic

posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, Dale Stein.

Two groups of farmers took a slow drive on the Thruway through Genesee County today, slowing traffic and sending a message to Albany about a proposed bill that opponents call the Farm Death Bill.

The bill would change farm labor law. Among the provisions, farmers would be required to pay workers time-and-half for overtime. Farmers say it would cost the New York agriculture industry $200 million and drive hundreds of farms in the state out of business.

The bill has already passed the Assembly and now awaits consideration by the dysfunctional Senate.

Le Roy dairy farmer Dale Stein, who helped lead the protest, said it appears the protest was effective. He received a call this evening and was told Gov. David Paterson heard about the protest and immediately called a meeting with the agricutlure commissioner to discuss the legislation.

Two groups of farmers -- one starting in Batavia and another Le Roy -- participated in the protest. The Batavia group, comprised of representatives from about 20 farms, headed east and the Le Roy group headed west.  Each group drove 35 to 40 m.h.p., but blocked both lanes in each direction for only a portion of the drive.

Stein said he's heard of only one ticket being issued, to a van in the Le Roy group, and even though State Police were in the area of the eastbound group, no vehicles in that group were stopped.

The protest was organized, Stein said, on only about two or three hours notice.

Stein said State Police did not interfer with the eastbound protest, but he heard of a ticket being issued to a westbound driver.

Sgt. Derrick Harris of the State Police said that actually, six tickets were issued to westbound drivers. He said there were only six drivers involved in the westbound lanes. He said no action was taken in the eastbound lanes.

Listen: Audio of an interview after the protest with Stein.

Martin Szinger
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While I support the farmers GREATLY and understand the dangers of the bill, I have to say that as someone who depends on the Thruway for my daily commute (like it or not...), yesterday's little stunt goes beyond inconvenience - it's a public danger, and they really need to rethink their strategy before someone innocent gets hurt or killed. Willfull disruption of the normal flow of traffic on a high-speed highway causes accidents - serious ones. While our troopers are out there encorcing the speed limit and safety in the work zones, I hope they take the hard line against this significant public endangerment. Come on guys, why not raise awareness at the Thursday night concerts instead!? Just an added note, getting off at the Batavia tolls around 4:15PM yesterday, the entire non E-ZPass lane was blocked by a column of Turnbull vans, and a trooper with lights on blocking that exit lane. The backup coming into the chute was pretty severe. It wasn't real clear what was going on there, but hey, troopers, if you're going to ticket these guys, get some help and direct them all over to the parking lot to ticket them. (And while you're at it, if you're not going to install an advance left at the traffic light off the Thruway exit, then consider getting a trooper or Sheriff to direct traffic there at peak hours. We hit gridlock far too often there even when our well-meaning farmers aren't out there trying to make a point!)
Peter O'Brien
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Your going to want to turn right at that light or go straight through it soon enough Martin when the road work begins on 98.
Tyler Hall
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Martin, I totally agree with you. I don't want to sound anti-farming but their little selfless stunt yesterday was wrong on so many levels.
Karen Miconi
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While, Yes the farming industry is in trouble, what would have happened if someone would have lost their JOB, because they were delayed due to the Protest? Not to mention, thruway users pay a toll for the conveniance. Maybe next time they could protest in front of City Hall or something.
E. S. Sherman
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The thing is why shouldn't farm workers be paid on an even scale. Should we expect everyone to work with no overtime in every job.

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