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June 8, 2009 - 10:11pm

New York Assembly passes 'Farm Death Bill'

posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, steve hawley, legislation.

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."

Peter O'Brien
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Nolan represents Queens, what farm does she represent? None! She is obviously not representing he constituents well. If she was she wouldn't be enacting legislation to increase food prices.
Susan Brownell
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The last paragraph says it all. I wish the farmers would boycott it.
Patrick Weissend
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Maybe Assemblyman Hawley should sponsor a bill putting a tax on subway fares. (Or an additional one, I'm sure one already exists.) and since, I won't be paying that, I'm in favor of it. Would that be the equivalent of a legislator from Queens sponsoring a farm bill?
Beth Kinsley
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I second that motion Patrick!
Peter O'Brien
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The tit for tat attitude is part of the bigger problem. The answer is to do neither.
John Roach
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Patrick has got a great idea. While it would die in the Dem. run Assembly, it would make a point.
Bea McManis
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We already subsidize NYC MTA.
Chris Pawelski
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When the NYS legislature ended the separate minimum wage order for agricultural workers late in 1999 (signed into law by Governor Pataki in 2000) an unintended consequence occurred. It seems the NYS legislature wasn't aware that agricultural workers weren't the only workers with a separate state minimum wage order. At the time separate minimum wage orders existed for a number of industries and employees in New York, including the hospitality industry, household/domestic workers, taxicab drivers, non-profit making institutions, amongst others. (By the way, as even the New York Daily News acknowledged in it's series written at the time about the farmworker issue, the separate minimum wage for farmworkers wasn't a prevailing wage. The Daily News acknowledged twice, in pieces written on 8/1/99 and 11/17/99, "the average wage for field hands (in NYS) is $7.20 an hour.") When the increase was passed increases also were passed for the far more (than farmworkers) waiters and waitresses that work in NYS. That increase though never was seen by those workers. As Andrew Hsiao pointed out in his article "Stiffed! State Legislature Slices Waiters’ Minimum-Wage Raise " which appeared in the April 12 - 18, 2000 edition of the Village Voice: "The Democratic-led New York State assembly passed a bill cutting back a minimum-wage increase for tipped workers in restaurants and bars. The bill was quickly approved by the Republican-dominated State Senate and signed by Governor George Pataki on March 31, leaving labor activists steaming." He adds: "Enter the state's powerful $14.2 billion restaurant industry, which launched an intense lobbying campaign that culminated in the last-minute assembly bill. The legislation, shepherded through the assembly by speaker Sheldon Silver and labor committee chair Catherine Nolan, capped the tipped workers' minimum at $3.30. Mario Cilento, a spokesperson for the state AFL-CIO, says, 'It's unfathomable that they would go to all this trouble to deny these low-wage earners 20 cents an hour.' Worse, adds the Immigrant Rights Clinic's Chakshu Patel, the bill unhooked the tipped workers' minimum from the general minimum, meaning, she says, that 'if other workers get a raise in their minimum wage, restaurant workers won't. Instead, they'll have to fight a new and separate battle to increase their wages every time the general minimum is increased in the future.'" http://www.villagevoice.com/news/index.php?issue=0015&page=hsiao&id=14002 Queens Assemblywoman Nolan has been one of the most vocal proponents of self-appointed farmworker advocate proposed legislation over the years. I will note though that she probably has far more waiters and waitresses living in her district in Queens than farmworkers and farmers. I don't know if my (and others from upstate) objections to her positions (in respect to the fact she has virtually no firsthand knowledge or experience or real understanding in regards to agriculture and agriculture issues but has no problem pontificating about it) constitutes "agricultural exceptionalism" or not. But I will argue though that Nolan's callous move to backpedal on her minimum wage increase legislation in order to maintain the lower minimum wage "exclusion" for waiters and waitresses, so as to appease the powerful restaurant lobby, smacks of rank hypocrisy and cynical politics.
Howard B. Owens
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So let me get this right, see if I understand what you're saying: Nolan opposes any change in the law that would make pay for hospitality workers more equitable, but wants to change wage laws for farm workers? And she has more restaurant owners, presumably campaign contributors, than farmers in her district, who probably don't contribute to her campaign much? Is that the gist of it?
Chris Pawelski
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Nolan opposed raising the minimum wage for the other classes of employees that had a separate and lower state minimum wage order. When she and the legislature ended the lower state farmworker minimum wage order (which wasn't even a prevailing wage, you couldn't hire any farmworker at that lower wage and I'm not aware of anyone that paid it) they accidently ended the others, including the one for waiters and waitresses. The Village Voice wasn't the only publication that covered what happened at the time. So did the NY Daily News. Here is what it said in part: "But in its rush to approve the farm-worker bill, the Legislature created an unintended benefit for an even larger group: some 135,000 "hospitality industry" employees - mostly waiters, waitresses and bartenders. Those workers, because they receive tips, get only a percentage of the minimum wage set by the state's Department of Labor. The idea is that combined, tips and wages bring the worker above state or federal minimums. Now, the old state wage rate for these workers, $2.90 an hour, rises to $3.50 on April 1. Restaurant owners say that's an unnecessary windfall and have asked for relief. The Republican-controlled state Senate already has passed a bill exempting tipped employees from the new higher rates, and leaders of the Democratic Assembly say they are similarly inclined." The article then states: "Cathy Nolan (D-Queens), who chairs the Assembly Labor Committee, said she is inclined to help the restaurant industry but wants to hold hearings first. 'I just want to slow it up a little, hear what the unions and others have to say,' Nolan said." http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/2000/01/03/2000-01-03_step_1_to... The NY Daily News, unlike the Village Voice in its coverage, soft-pedaled Nolan's role in re-inserting the separate and lower minimum wage order for tipped employees. And as the Village Voice article pointed out in the previous article I cited what Nolan passed made the situation WORSE for tipped employees than it was before the separate minimum wage order was ended. And what was her motivation? Why would she do this? As the Village Voice stated she obviously succumbed to the pressure put on by the restaurant industry lobby. Do they contribute more to her campaigns than farmers? I would suppose so. I can't think of a single farmer that would ever give her a dime, even if they had a lobotomy. Either way, it was easy to go after farmers and agriculture because she has none in her district and obviously could give a crap about it. But her political courage and concern and support for "justice" for the disadvantaged and downtrodden waiter and waitress melted faster than a soft serve ice cream dropped on a Queens parking lot on a hot day in mid July. As I stated, it was cynical politics and rank hypocrisy on her part. By the way, she has NEVER held a hearing regarding the farmworker legislation but has relied purely on the claims of a one-sided and very misleading source that had no problem lying to the NYS Lobby Commission and has repeatedly spread misinformation and clear distortions regarding the working and living conditions of farmworkers in NYS and the laws associated with them and their enforcement. For example, during the debate on Monday Nolan repeatedly railed on and on about the lower minimum wage for children that work on farms. This is something that the twit Kerry Kennedy has used recently as well (In the fields, children 14 and 15 years old make a mere $3.20 an hour for their back-breaking servitude. http://www.newsday.com/news/opinion/ny-opken0712848549jun08,0,4102276.story) Nolan implied this was a typical or normal wage across the board (as is Kennedy). But when pressed on it she eventually admitted during the debate that the NYSDOL told her staff a literal handful of workers were paid that wage last year. That's Witt and RMM and that's Nolan. So typical. Chris
Chris Pawelski
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This link will take you to an op-ed I wrote for my paper that was run today regarding this issue: http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090611/OPINION/... This link will take you to a listserv where I uploaded a fundraising card of Richard Witt's for RMM back in November of 2001 when he tried to cash in on 9/11, claiming repeatedly that farmworkers in NYS were subject to a constant state of "terror." Yes, he used the word "terror" in this fundraising card, sent 2 months after the terrorists attacks, repeatedly. I don't know if you can find a better example of disturbing shamelessness. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BuyLocalNY/message/310

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