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February 3, 2022 - 6:42pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Torrey Farms, news, agriculture, farm labor, elba.

Porfirio Gabriel has worked for Torrey Farms in Elba for 13 years and helps the Torreys recruit workers from Mexico, specifically Comachuen, to obtain H2A temporary visas and work planting onions and harvesting squash, cabbage, and beans each year.

These workers, Gabriel told NPR for a recent story about money sent from workers back to Mexico to help support local economies, have helped Comachuen families receive as much as $5 million over three years, by far the town's largest source of income.

These funds sent to Mexico, called remittances, may have exceeded $50 billion for the first time last year, according to the story.

Travis Torrey sent the link to the NPR story to The Batavian noting that as regulators try to limit the number of hours farmer workers can labor each week they're really hurting the people they say they're trying to help.

"I think you can see that coming to WNY to work is their version of the ‘American dream,’" Torrey said. "Everyone that has come here has bettered themselves and families.  The inhumanity is denying them the opportunity.

"Without the farmworkers, there would be no farms," he added. "The same can be said if there are no farms there are no farmworkers."

A week ago, the state's Farm Labor Board, on a 2-1 vote, recommended the overtime threshold for farmworkers be lowered from 60 hours a week to 40 hours a week.

Both farmer-owners and farmworkers have repeatedly spoken out against the rule change over the past few years saying that workers will seek jobs in states that don't restrict potential earnings.

Torrey notes the rule change will hurt workers like Gabriel when they get their hours cut.

From the NPR story:

Gabriel is resigned to working in the United States as long as he can. He sends home about $7,500 each year from what he earns working the fields. That money is largely used to fund his children's education, paying private college fees so his eldest son can be a registered nurse.

His hope is that his children will get university degrees and not have to emigrate. "I am paying for their studies, so that they don't have to do what we had to do," Gabriel says.

February 24, 2020 - 5:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor, agriculture, batavia, business.

Press release:

New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon today announced she will convene a wage board for farm laborers that will hold hearings, review and make recommendations regarding overtime work for farm laborers in New York State.

Under the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law last year, farm laborers are entitled to overtime premium pay as of Jan. 1 for any work that they perform in excess of 60 hours per week, and for work performed on their designated day of rest.

As part of that Act, the wage board will consider and make recommendations as to overtime work and, specifically, will hear testimony about reducing the threshold for overtime below 60 hours per week and whether to do so in phases.

“We worked hard to ensure this bill included the proper labor protections and benefits that our farm laborers are entitled to,” Commissioner Reardon said. “We have an opportunity to improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of farmworkers. Overtime is a key component and we need to get it right.”

Convening the Wage Board

As required by the Act, New York State Labor Commissioner Reardon will convene a wage board with the following members:

  • David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau
  • Denis Hughes, former president of the New York State AFL-CIO
  • Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League

Under the Act, the wage board must hold at least three hearings at which the public will be afforded an opportunity to provide comments. The board will hold five hearings in various parts of the state. The board will carefully consider the input it gathers from farmers and other stakeholders.

The board has until Dec. 31 to make its recommendations, after which the Commissioner will have 45 days to take administrative action on those recommendations.

Public hearings are scheduled as follows:

  • Friday 2/28 – 11 a.m. – Albany – New York State Museum Cultural Education Center, Clark Auditorium, 222 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12230
  • Friday 3/13 – 11 a.m. – Syracuse – Onondaga Community College, Storer Auditorium, 4585 W. Seneca Turnpike, Syracuse, NY 13215
  • Monday 3/23 – 11 a.m. – Binghamton – Binghamton University, Symposium Hall, Center of Excellence Building Innovative Technology Complex, 45 Murray Hill Road, Vestal, NY 13850
  • Thursday 4/16 – 11 a.m. – Long Island – Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville, NY 11738
  • Thursday 4/23 – 11 a.m. – Batavia – Genesee Community College, William Stuart Forum, 1 College Road, Batavia, NY 14020
May 19, 2019 - 6:04pm
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."

April 11, 2019 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in farm labor bill, farm labor, news, agriculture, Le Roy, notify.


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Proposed changes to farm labor practices in New York would likely destroy the state's agriculture industry, with a spill-over effect on many other businesses in local communities, and ultimately lead to families getting out of farming, a group of local farms said Wednesday at a press conference at Stein Farms in Le Roy.

The farmers gathered to raise concerns about the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act now making its way through the New York State Legislature.

"We're at the point I think where this has the potential to be the single greatest economic devastating effect on agriculture in New York in my lifetime," said Dale Stein, senior partner at Stein Farms.

The bill's chief sponsor and supporter, Sen. Jessica Ramos, from Queens, is in Batavia today, as a guest of Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, to meet with area farmers and listen to their concerns. The press conference was called in advance of that meeting so farmers could share their concerns with the broader public.

"We just aren't heard now very well by Downstate And it's not they're not good people and don't care. They do. Our people want to work. They don't want 40 hours a week. They don't want eight hours a day as my staff tell me. I don't want to sit home and watch TV. I'd rather come and work. We offer them extra hours if they want they come and work. They don't want us at home. They want to make all the money they can."

Stein, along with Jeff Toussaint, an Albion farmer, and Jim Starowitz, a farm employee in Byron, not only talked about the potential costs of the bill, which would institute new overtime rules, reduce weekly working hours, and other regulatory burdens for farms, but also how unnecessary the bill is because of laws already in place, the above-minimum-wage pay scales in place at farms now, and the desire of farm workers to work while there's money to be made.

The bill would also allow farm workers to join labor unions.

"I'm here to tell you that apples are a perishable crop and I can't emphasize that enough," Toussaint said. "They have to be harvested on time. If apples are left in the orchard too long they become soft and we're unable to store them. In just a matter of a few days of becoming overripe, they can lose 50 to 75 percent of their original value. A strike during harvest season would ultimately be catastrophic."

Starowitz said the increased costs associated with the bill would eventually put a lot of farm workers out of work.

"The costs are an additional $200,000 a year," Starowtiz said. "That equates to an extra $32 a tonne (aka metric ton), or almost a thousand dollars an acre. If all states where there are growers are on the same level, we could pass our cost along like every other business.

"But this is a state law that puts us in a noncompetitive position with other states. It increases labor cost and over time we will be no longer able to raise our vegetables. We'll have to move to a row-crop-only business or close our doors."

Maureen Torrey, co-owner of Torrey Farms, joined the conversation and said besides making it harder for her to compete nationally, the proposed changes will also make it harder to attract farm labor to New York.

"We have a limited pool even of visa workers," Torrey said. "They're going to go work where they can get a minimum of 60 hours or more."

May 14, 2013 - 3:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, NY Farm Bureau, farm labor.

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.

May 12, 2010 - 9:02pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, new york, farm labor.

Sen. George Onorato, a Democrat from Queens, represents no farmers and probably no farm workers, but he has reintroduced legislation that New Yorker's farmers have spent close to two years fighting and thought they had defended.

The farm labor bill is now S.7787 and Watertown-area Democratic Senator Dean Aurbertine, who successfully lobbied Senate leadership to have the previous farm labor bill moved into his agriculture committee, where it died last month, said the new bill makes only cosmetic changes to the previously defeated legislation.

In a news release, Aubertine said:

“It’s disheartening that advocates for this legislation after suffering a defeat refuse to accept the fact that this bill went through an open process, was considered and defeated by a majority of senators. Up to now a majority of Senators who have voted on this bill, voted against this bill. The process was set up by the Senate to deal with these bills and the process worked. There really is no substantive change between this legislation and the legislation that went down to defeat.”

The bill allows farm workers to form unions, receive workers compensation and unemployment benefits and provides for 24-consecutive hours of off time each week and mandates an eight-hour work day.

Farmers say the provisions would drive up farm labor costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and put many of New York's farms out of business.

April 22, 2010 - 4:21pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, Mike Ranzenhofer, Dean Norton, farm labor.


From left, Dale Stein, Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer and Dean Norton.

Following the defeat of a farm labor bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee this week, New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said agriculture leaders are more than willing to sit down with farm labor advocates and discuss compromise legislation.

He said while proponents of the recently defeated bill said they agreed to compromise on changes, that isn't really how it worked.

"There was no compromise," Norton said. "They came in and said, ‘OK, we tweaked it a little bit. Take it or leave it.’ In my world, that’s not a compromise."

Now that the bill is dead, Norton said maybe the farm-labor advocates will realize they tried to take too big a bite out of the apple, and will be willing to sit down and really talk.

"I think with 2247B being defeated, perhaps we have the opportunity to go back and have that open dialogue," Norton said. "I hope the other side really takes the opportunity to do that."

Norton's remarks came at the end of a press conference with Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer to discuss the bill's defeat.

Ranzenhofer thanked Norton and Genesee County farmers, with dairyman Dale Stein at his side, for their efforts to help defeat the bill, which he said would have killed agriculture in New York.

Getting the bill out of the labor committee -- where he said it was just rubber-stamped -- and into the agriculture committee was key to giving the bill a fair hearing and have it publicly weighed on its merits.

The hearings, he said, brought in both opponents and proponents of the bill.

Ranzenhofer once again praised the work of Daily News staff writer Tom Rivers for his series on farm labor, which he said opened eyes in Albany to what farm labor is really like, and made it harder for bill supporters to spread misinformation about farm-labor practices.

Stein said the misinformation spread by bill supporters really made him unhappy.

"Where can you make $34,000 or $35,000 a year in Genesee County without a high school diploma, without a driver's license?" Stein asked rhetorically. "On a farm. You can’t do it anywhere else. They’re not telling the truth about what the farm workers are making. And that’s my real disagreement with them."

A key factor in getting the bill defeated, Ranzenhofer acknowledged, was the willingness of  Sen. Darrel Aubertine, a Democrat from the Watertown area, to buck his party and get the bill moved into the ag committee, which he chairs.

Aubertine is the first Democrat in 100 years to represent that area of New York in the Senate. His district still leans Republican, but based on comments from Ranzenhofer today (in response to a reporter's question), it doesn't sound like the GOP will cut Aubertine any slack in November's election.

Asked if Ranzenhofer would endorse Aubertine, Ranzenhofer said flatly, "No."

"At the end of the day," Ranzenhofer said, "when you vote for a budget, like he did last year, that increases taxes $8.5 billion, increases spending over $12 billion, I mean that to me is a non-starter. When you take a position like that, which continues to kill the whole economy in the State of New York, I mean, I didn’t vote that way. I don’t support that point of view and I can’t support senators who advocate for increasing taxes and increasing spending."

April 20, 2010 - 2:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, agriculture, farm labor.

A bill that would have instituted new overtime rules, unemployment benefits and allowed farm workers to organize into collective-bargaining units died in the New York Senate's Agriculture Committee today.

On a 6-3 vote, the committee voted down the measure, known by opponents as the "Farm Death Bill."

Opponents said the bill would have increased costs for New York's farmers by $200 million per year.

"It would have killed agriculture in New York State, and that's the state's number one industry," said Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer, who sits on the committee and voted against the bill.

After passage in the Assembly last year, the bill was looking like it would make it to a floor vote in the Senate when Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, a Democrat who chairs the agriculture committee, lobbied to have the bill reviewed by his committee before letting the full Senate vote on it.

In a statement today, Aubertine said:

"The committee came to its conclusion following a lengthy, open process which included participation from all sides of the issue. The committee worked diligently to cut through the rhetoric, and aggressively pursued the facts of this matter. Toward that end, the committee voted based on the merits of this bill and its impact on farm workers, farmers and consumers; not partisan attacks, half-truths, rhetoric or political polling."

Ranzenhofer said that articles by Batavia Daily News staff writer Tom Rivers, which he collected in a book, helped educate legislative leaders about farm labor and dispel a lot of misinformation being spread by supporters of the bill.

"Tom was  able to bring reality check to what some of the more sensational special interest people were saying," Ranzenhofer said.

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