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May 19, 2019 - 6:04pm

Ortt: Little progress to report on fight to defeat or modify farm labor bill

posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor bill, farm labor, agriculture, news, notify, corfu, video.
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Sen. Rob Ortt visited Reyncrest Farms in Corfu on Friday as part, he said, of regular visits to farms in Upstate New York to learn more about the potential impact of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.

He said he feels obligated to do it because the supporters of the bill, who have no farms or farmworkers in their districts, aren't doing it and they're not holding hearings on the bill in Western New York.

"We know that the sponsor is not visiting farms," Ortt said "She doesn't have a farm in her district. So I'm trying to fill that void to push back on some of these narratives that are being justified as to why we need to have this legislation in New York."

Ortt is the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee. He's also a potential candidate for the Republic primary race in the 27th Congressional District.

Sen. Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, and a first-term representative from Queens, is the Senate sponsor of the bill. She did visit Genesee County a few weeks ago and met with farmers and farmworkers and tried to prevent the press from covering her visit. She heard from many farmworkers who said they didn't support the legislation because it would mean they would make less money.

The bill, as written currently, would give farmworkers the right to join labor unions, as well as mandate an eight-hour workday and 40-hour work week. Both farmers and farmworkers say it is the cap on work hours that will do the most economic damage.

Earlier this month, Ortt lead a roundtable discussion of the bill and afterward indicated a willingness to negotiate on both of those main points. Friday he said that willingness is based on the feedback he's getting from farmers who tell him, he said, that if passage of such a bill is inevitable, then can it at least be made less draconian?

So far, he said, he's seen little willingness by the sponsors to negotiate.

Reyncrest is exactly the kind of family-owned dairy farm that stands to be most severely hurt by the legislation if it passes as is, he said.

"They have three farmers, (ages) 28, 26, and 25 -- a new generation, right? The next generation of farmers here to keep this going," Ortt said. "But they need to be able to sustain each of those individuals. This farm needs to be profitable for all three of those family members and if they can't make it a go, maybe they're unable to continue on and that impacts consumers.

"That impacts folks here in New York State who want to buy their products from New York State farmers, who want to buy their products from locally grown farms, locally grown here in New York. And so every time we add onto the burden here, and especially when it's being done by people who haven't stepped foot on a farm, who don't understand the dynamics of what they're doing, now I think that should be a real cause for concern for all New Yorkers."

Scott Chismar
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Once again the one-sided nature of TheBatavian comes out in this "news" piece. Not very fair and balanced and it does not tell the entire story.

The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act simply protects those working on farms from abuses by the owners of farms, and brings these workers up to the same level of protections that most every other worker in New York enjoys.

The act:

1) Grants collective bargaining rights to farmworkers. Most every other worker in NY has the ability to join a union. Farmworkers are currently an exception. Not many people, other than Farm Owners would have any reason to object to workers on farms joining a union. The bill does not force them to be in a union. It only gives them the rights to do so.

2) Gives farmworkers the protections of Workers Compensation coverage. Most every other category of workers in NY state enjoy the security of being covered by Worker's Compensation Insurance should they suffer an injury or illness on the job. This bill just gives these hard working men and women Workers Compensation Benefits that is all. We have no problems in society covering office clerical workers in white collar safe jobs with Workers Comp. Yet, some have an issue with giving farm workers this coverage as they work sun up to sun down, in the elements, surrounded with pesticides while doing back breaking work. I am not sure who would be against this provision other than the farm owners.

3) Gives farmworkers unemployment insurance. Again, just like most every other worker in NY State. And with the hours these folks are working, I am not sure who would ever collect anyway. It sounds to me there is a shortage of workers willing to do this job.

4) Gives farmworkers one day of rest each week, like most every other worker in NY State. I am not sure who, besides the farm owners, would have a problem with seeing people enjoying a day of rest each week. 6 days of work from sun up until sun down seems like a lot to me. Not a lot to ask to have a day off.

5) Grants overtime pay protections. Once again, most every worker in NY State receives the benefit of receiving a premium pay when they work over 40 hours in a week. The usual time and one half provision kicks in after 40 hours. This bill seeks to do the same. To pick on the poor office clerical folks again, they receive a rate of at least 1 1/2 times their hourly rate should they be forced to stay in the air conditioned office in the summer or heated office in the winter. Yet, farmworkers do not receive any such premium pay. Does this make sense to anyone? And in this puff piece with Ortt, Howard reports that the bill would "Mandate an 8 hour work day and 40 hour work week". This makes it sound like this is all they are allowed to work. This is misleading. Again, they can work longer, but they would be paid a premium pay for hours worked more than 40 in a week - just like most other NY workers.

6) Provides suitable housing for migrant workers. It calls for basic things like clean water, adequate lighting, fresh air and not to be a fire trap. Once again, things that most of us would all take for granted.

The owners of farms have a tough gig. I understand and appreciate that. But that does not mean that the workers on these farms should be treated like slaves. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act simply gives the workers the opportunity to have a voice on the job and dignity, justice and respect in the fields. In my opinion, this bill does not ask for much. And those like Sen. Ortt who would suggest otherwise are trampling on the workers of NY State.

Howard B. Owens
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The story and video accurately reflects the views of the source and provides factual information about the bill. It is fair, balanced and accurate. Any accusation to the contrary is uninformed. The additional details you provide is longer than appropriate for a news story but welcome in your comment but nothing in your comment contradicts the fairness and accuracy of our coverage.

Scott Chismar
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Thanks Howard. The biggest beef I have with the story is where you say the bill would "...mandate an 8 hour work day and 40 hour work week." Especially since it is followed up with comments that there would be a cap on hours that would cause economic damage.

There is no such cap on hours. The choice of words would have a naive reader believing that all workers on farms would have to pack up and vacate the fields when 8 hours kicked in. This is not the case. The bill would provide for overtime premium pay for hours worked over 40 in a week, not place a limitation on the amount of hours allowed to work.

This same provision that is being proposed is enjoyed by most every other worker in NY State.

Howard B. Owens
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" all workers on farms would have to pack up and vacate the fields when 8 hours kicked in. This is not the case."

As a matter of practicality, that is the case. Farmers would be forced to either send workers home or face bankruptcy. That's just basic economics. The prices farmers can get for their products are fixed by a global marketplace. They can't raise prices just because they have to pay overtime. There can be little doubt workers would lose hours. So the reporting is accurate.

Farmwork in New York is not the same as work in other sectors. It's disingenuous to make a comparison.

And since H2A workers can't have side gigs, they would lose wages as a result of the restrictions on their working hours.

This is why farmworkers themselves oppose the bill.

BTW: Workers compensation, housing, and such, as we've factually reported in other stories, are already covered by existing laws.

Most employers are loath to pay overtime because labor rates are set based on the value created by a worker, so if a worker receives $15 an hour, the work can still be done at a profit but when that rate goes up to $22.50 an hour, the business is losing money on that hour's worth of work, especially in agriculture where margins are always tight.

I think the wording factually and accurately reflects reality.

Scott Chismar
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Agriculture Employers have enjoyed many exemptions from labor laws over the years. Maybe some were warranted because of the uniqueness of the industry, but as is often the case the exemptions have been exploited.

For it to be said that in order to protect the interests of the Farm Owner that unions should not be allowed is outrageous. Any labor union has a vested interest in seeing that the members they represent are treated fairly and paid in a just fashion. A fair day's work for a fair day's pay is all that is being asked. Why would a Union spend the time, energy, effort and resources to organize a group of workers and then demand things at the table that would have the effect of bankrupting the farm? It makes no sense. And again, this bill does not require unionization, it only gives farm workers the rights to organize. If the farm workers themselves are against the bill as you say, it should not be any big deal because the farm owners would not have to worry about dealing with a labor union. It is conflicting logic to state that unionization is detrimental to the industry while at the same time claiming that farm workers do not want unionization.

As for the inability to pay overtime, you could make that same statement about just about any small business in existence. If I own a pizza joint or sub shop or hotel or landscaping operation, my profit margins are thin. I do not want to pay overtime. In order to avid doing so, I create better schedules and become more efficient. To me, this is the American way of doing business. Farm Owners should be no different. Maybe they need to raise the wages in the first place in order to get the best and most productive workers available. I never once bought into the idea that these migrants are here to do the jobs that Americans do not want to do. To me, many of the farm owners exploit the system and get the cheapest labor possible. Maybe if they paid a normal, living wage, some of these lazy kids would put down the video game controls and move out of Mom's basement and get to work before they are 30 years old.

I have witnessed first hand the abuses that migrant workers have suffered. There are employers who know full well, that they may have workers with issues with their papers, yet turn a blind eye. Then when same said worker gets a finger cut off and needs attention, the Employer decides to look at the paperwork and is more interested in the legal status instead of their medical status. Again, I have first hand experience of workers being let go after an injury because of their status. They were good for their Employer until they got hurt. Then they just became a drag on the community when they were shown the door with no job and now with a few less digits. So, why should these folks not have workers compensation protection?

Many of the problems that Farm Owners face today can directly be attributed to the policies of the same politicians that they have so strongly backed. I think many are realizing that Trump's farm policies are detrimental to family farms. Yet instead of blaming the Administration and the big multi-national conglomerates that control the seeds and pesticides, they decide to assign blame downwards. Instead of blaming the mammoth corporations who have taken over every aspect of the food chain supply it is easier and safer to blame a worker who is requesting to have a day off a week or to have workers compensation coverage if he or she gets injured on the job? That does not sound very fair or reasonable to me.

Howard B. Owens
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Related to farmworkers forming unions:

First, you may recall that I asked Sen. Ortt following his meeting here that isn't it a conservative value to uphold the Constitution, which guarantees a right to free association, so shouldn't workers in any industry have a right to organize. He conceded that could be a negotiation point, as well as what limits should be placed on hours for regular pay. And he says here, the other side is unwilling, apparently, to negotiate.

Negotiations, including between labor and owners, is part of a free-market system.

The free market isn't working out very well for farmworker unions in California.

https://californiaglobe.com/legislature/ufw-leadership-change-highlights...

http://calag.ucanr.edu/Archive/?article=ca.v044n06p28

Labor unions represent only a small fraction of farmworkers in California, where farm labor unions were created.

"As for the inability to pay overtime, you could make that same statement about just about any small business in existence."

Not true. In just about any other industry, production is predictable. It's not predictable in agriculture. This is, not to be punny, an apples and oranges comparison.

H2A workers on farms receive all the same benefits and protections of workers in any other industry. They have now workers compensation coverage.

"Maybe they need to raise the wages in the first place in order to get the best and most productive workers available."

Scott, I thought you were concerned about facts. You must have missed our video where farmworkers talk about how much money they make and don't want to see that diminished. There are two former farmworkers in our community who now own their own businesses because they earned the money in farmwork to make that possible. If wages weren't adequate (the word "fair" is entirely subjective and has no economic basis in fact), that wouldn't be possible. Further, as a matter of facts, the products from farms are global commodities. Prices are set in a global market place. Farmers can't just raise their prices on subjective whim. The prices are constrained by what buyers want to pay to get those. Econ 101. Supply and demand.

If you're concerned about agriculture conglomerates, I would think the rational response would be concerned about more regulation on farmers that will cut their margins and force them to sell out to conglomerates.

Scott Chismar
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Howard, it is the very cozy relationship that some very powerful politicians have with the conglomerates that set the policies that ultimately make the little guy sell. The conglomerates are what need to be looked at. But once again, it is easier to point the finger at some environmental group that may be fighting to keep our air and streams clean. It is a very common theme. We always assign blame downwards. I believe we need to start collectively looking upwards and see what is really going on.

There is certainly a wage disparity between the farm owners and the farm workers, as it should be. One is the boss, the other is the worker. With that being said, lets take a look at the wage disparity between the local successful farm owner and that of the CEO's of Companies like Cargill, Tyson, BRF, Alltech, JBS, Bachoco, and Foster Farms.

These folks are doing quite alright and their exorbitant salaries come from the hard work and planning and risks that the Farm Owners took. I just find it quite frustrating that with all of this money in the industry available that the bottom rung on the ladder (the farm workers) would shoulder the blame for bankrupting farms because of basic workplace protections and overtime pay.

Howard B. Owens
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So you don't like the conglomerates (and I'm not a big business fan, just like I'm not a big government fan) and think the executives make too much money, so you'll squeeze the family farmers?

The farm labor bill won't fix the conglomerates or reduce concentration in suppliers and distributors. It won't create more competition and could create less competition.

As a fan of Adam Smith, I believe in free markets but I also believe in proper checks and balances.

This is a complex issue. There is no simple fix. We look for our policymakers to tackle complex issues with nuance and compromise to help avoid unintended consequences. That rarely happens these days but that's what I ask of my lawmakers.

So, why won't the side promoting this bill recognize the complexity of the issue (if Ortt is to be believed) and negotiate?

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