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Downstate urban legislators trying to push through farm labor bill

By Howard B. Owens

Like a bad dream that keeps recurring, New York farmers are once again fighting legislation that could put many of them out of business, or radically change the way they do business.

Assembly Democrats yesterday pushed through a farm labor bill similar to one defeated two years ago that would require overtime pay, require at least 24 consecutive hours off each week and allow for collective bargaining.

The bill passed the Assembly 82-53 and moves to the GOP-controlled Senate, where it was defeated two years ago, but the fight isn't over, said Dean Norton, president of the NY Farm Bureau.

"Anytime a law this bad for us is passed in one house with the closeness of the leadership in the Senate, we're concerned," Norton said. "We still need our farmers to contact their senators and let them know how they feel about it."

Many of the arguments being made in support of the bill are disingenuous, Norton said. Farmers already pay minimum wage or higher, provide housing and are covered by workers compensation.

"What we have now is Downstate legislators who have no experience with farms telling us how to run our farms and trying to put in protections that are already in place," Norton said.

New York is ranked 27th in farm production in the nation, but number two in labor costs. New York's labor costs are 56 percent higher than the national average.

New York farmers pay an average of $26 per acre in property taxes compared to a national average of $6 per acre.

Supporters of the bill like to compare New York to California, Norton noted, but California is the number one agriculture state in the nation and has a 10-month growing season. New York's season is five months at best.

As Assemblyman Steve Hawley said during yesterday's floor debate, "There's an old adage -- when sun shines you have to make the hay."

In New York, crops don't wait for the next eight-hour shift to ripen; Harvest time is harvest time.

But neither do workers work all year long. There's a short period of time for them to make the most money they can.

If New York institutes a 40-hour work week for farm labor, Norton said, many labors won't work fewer hours, they'll just get a second job because they know harvest time is the time to make money.

Hawley also argued that if working conditions are bad on a farm, a farmer will have a hard time finding and retaining workers. 

Below is a five-minute video produced by the Farm Bureau about the legislation.

Two years ago it was the work of North Country Democrat Darrel J. Aubertine, who used his power as chair of the agriculture committee to keep the bill from a floor vote. Aubertine was repaid by the GOP with a campaign to win his Senate seat. 

Without Aubertine, Norton still believes farmers have enough powerful friends in the Senate to defeat the bill, but it won't go down without a fight.

UPDATE: Here's Hawley's floor speech.

Ed Hartgrove

"... New York farmers pay an average of $26 per acre in property taxes compared to a national average of $6 per acre."
People should just stop eating for 3 or 4 months. Then, maybe the STINK of 5 million rotting corpses would get Albany's attention. Afterall, the wind blows East. Albany just BLOWS!!
Sort of reminds me of a HUGE bumpersticker I made years ago - "There is NO gravity - NY JUST SUCKS"

May 14, 2013, 4:08pm Permalink
Kyle Slocum

We, the captive population of the State of The City of New York, must learn our place. That place is to quietly allow the urban elite to dictate to us the way we are to live our lives, grow our crops and spend our remaining money after taxes. It is only right: They are so much more enlightened and gifted than us poor hicks out in fly-over country.

May 14, 2013, 8:01pm Permalink

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