New York Assembly passes 'Farm Death Bill'
A bill sponsored by a New York City Democrat that could cost the state's farmers $200 million a year, or drive many farmers out of business, and many farm workers out of state, as well as increase the cost of New York-produced food, today passed the state Assembly 85 to 57.
The Farmworkers Omnibus Labor Standards Bill, AB 1867, or as its opponents call it, "The Farm Death Bill," will require farmers to pay time-and-a-half for over time, allow farm workers to join labor unions, require a day off during harvest season, will require farmers to pay into the unemployment system, among other provisions.
The bill is sponsored by Catherine Nolan, who represents Queens.
Assemblyman Steve Hawley voted against the bill.
I spoke with Hawley about the bill Friday in his Main Street insurance office, and Steve noted that a farm worker who might, under current law, work 60 hours a week at $16 or $17 an hour and would therefore earn $1,000 is likely to see his earnings cut in half by the bill, because a farmer would find it more economical to hire a second worker rather than pay time-and-a-half to the original worker.
In a press release this evening, Hawley noted that the bill passed rather ironically the day before is slated to honor the state's dairy farmers with its annual "Dairy Day."
"Dairy farmers and agribusinesses come from all over the state to be lauded by legislators as the ‘pride of New York,’" Hawley said. "How hypocritical for lawmakers to, on the eve of this day, pass the bill that will kill these businesses. Once our farms close up shop, they will be closed forever.”
Hawley's full press release after the jump:
Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R, I, C - Batavia) today voted against the Farmworkers Omnibus Labor Standards Bill, dubbed the "Farm Death Bill." By imposing unnecessary and expensive mandates on farmers, the cost of the bill, ranging in the thousands, depending on farm size, has the potential to put farms and agribusinesses across the state out of business.
"My family has a long tradition of farming. Our Western New York community's backbone is in agriculture - both socially and financially. This bill will be the final nail in the coffin for New York State agriculture and more people will suffer the consequences of our farms closing than just the farmers or farm workers. The price of food will skyrocket and further hurt hard-working middle-America families that are just squeezing by right now. This bill is a disaster for the state economy," said Hawley, who is a former crop and hog farmer and Genesee County Farm Bureau President.
Hawley debated the bill on the floor, citing the fact that from April 2008 to April 2009, milk prices received by farmers dropped from $18.20 per 100 weight to $11.80; corn from $5.86 to $3.98; and wheat from $9.20 to $4.24. These price drops signify that farmers in New York State are already struggling to make ends meet. This is compounded by production costs, which for milk are currently around $14 per 100 weight, meaning that farmers are already losing money on their products. Additionally, New York State has lost over 2,000 farms over the last decade. Hawley argued that the new provisions that the bill mandates will push struggling farms over the edge and force more farms, especially smaller operations, to permanently close.
During the debate, Hawley also commented on the comparison of New York State's agriculture to that of California. He stated, "In California, they have farms that operate year-round. Their agricultural industry is 12 months a year and operates on a much larger scale. Here, in New York, many farms only operate 1 to 2 months per year and during these months everything from planting to harvesting happens."
Hawley, who also serves as a member of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, was among the first legislators to oppose the Farm Death Bill, or Assembly Bill 1867. With the entire bipartisan Assembly Agriculture Committee, he sent a formal letter of opposition to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver outlining the devastating effects of the bill. Hawley has worked with New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton, a former dairy farmer in Batavia, local farmers and a bipartisan delegation of state legislators, to openly and publicly oppose the bill as well as to wage a public campaign urging New Yorkers to contact the sponsors of the bill in opposition.
Despite this, the Assembly passed the legislation by a vote of 85 to 57. Hawley stated, "Tomorrow, the State Legislature is celebrating their annual 'Dairy Day,' a day when dairy farmers and agribusinesses come from all over the state to be lauded by legislators as the 'pride of New York.' How hypocritical for lawmakers to, on the eve of this day, pass the bill that will kill these businesses. Once our farms close up shop, they will be closed forever."