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farm labor bill

June 12, 2019 - 5:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, farm workers, farm labor bill, video.
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This morning a group of farmers and farm workers gathered in the parking lot of Farm Credit East before heading to Albany to participate in a rally against a proposed bill that would give farm workers the right to join unions and restrict their working hours to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week.

May 24, 2019 - 10:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, news, farm labor bill.

Farmworkers have the right to form unions and collectively bargain for wages and working conditions, a New York appellate court ruled this week in a decision that also denied the respondent in the case an opportunity for a hearing on the topic.

The ruling drew a swift rebuke from the respondent, the New York Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau issued the following statement:

“We are extremely disappointed in the majority’s decision and the breadth of its ruling. The Appellate Court was considering the trial court’s decision on a motion to dismiss, which, if denied would have permitted Farm Bureau to fully litigate this case in the trial court.

"Instead, the majority of the court decided to make a far-reaching determination by declaring the right to collectively bargain as a “fundamental right,” on par with the freedoms of speech and religion. We believe that the majority’s conclusion is unsupportable and disregards decades of precedent.

"The court’s dissenting opinion exposed the flaws in the majority’s ruling and identified that the decision eliminates Farm Bureau’s right to defend the constitutionality of the statute in a trial court. 

"Speaking more broadly, if the legislature, and now the courts do not recognize the value of preserving a viable and economically sustainable food production system in the state, New York agriculture will continue to shrink under a mountain of mandates.

"Our rural economy and local job opportunities will suffer. And New Yorkers will find it harder to access New York grown food, instead, relying on food brought in from out of state, or worse yet, out of the country to feed their families. New York Farm Bureau fully intends to appeal the court’s ill-conceived ruling.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley also criticized the ruling.

“The New York state Appellate Court got this wrong. I’m deeply disappointed, both in the substance of the ruling and in the judicial overreach which prevents the New York Farm Bureau from appropriately litigating this case in trial court. Make no mistake, if the Court of Appeals doesn’t overturn this decision, it will mark the end of family farms in New York state, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic impact and generations of time-honored tradition older than New York state itself. It’s imperative that the New York Farm Bureau’s appeal is successful,” said Hawley.

The issue is also part of a contentious dispute in the state Legislature over proposed changes in state labor law that, if passed as currently written, would give farmworkers the right to organize and also institute for farmworkers an eight-hour workday, and a 40-hour work week. These provisions, farmers, and farmworkers say would devastate the state's agriculture industry.

The ruling potentially takes away a bargaining chip from opponents of the bill by granting the bill sponsors one of the changes in law they are seeking.

State Senator Rob Ortt, the ranking minority party member of the Agriculture Committee was also unhappy with the ruling.

“After today’s ruling, the last thing we need to do is pass the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act, which goes far beyond today’s ruling, and adds even more regulations on the backs of those responsible for growing our food.”

The ruling, of course, was applauded by those who support labor unions for farmworkers.

“The court’s ruling today was unequivocal that denying farmworkers basic labor rights is flat-out unconstitutional, and farmworkers, like other workers, have the right to organize,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of NYCLU told the New York Law Journal. “The workers on whom we depend for the food on our tables have the right to be treated humanely and with dignity, like any other hardworking New Yorker.”

The Cuomo administration has recently openly supported the move to allow farmworkers to collectively bargain and Attorney General Letitia James said she supported the decision.

The state did not defend itself from the lawsuit filed three years ago by former farmworker Crispin Hernandez, leaving it to the Farm Bureau to represent farmers' interests.

The lawsuit challenged the State Labor Relations Act, passed in 1937, that granted broad rights for workers to organize but specifically excluded farmworkers.

Critics of the exclusion claim the exclusion has its roots in Jim Crow practices (not, at the time, unknown in New York, though generally thought of as practices in the early 20th century in the Deep South) that discriminated against blacks. That history factored into the plaintiff's arguments.

The case was heard by the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department.  The majority opinion as written by Justice Christine M. Clark.

The plaintiff's attorneys argued that the 1937 act denied their client equal protection under the law and infringed on a fundamental right to organize and collectively bargain and also violated New York's Constitution. A provision passed at a constitutional convention in 1938 afforded employees the right to organize.

Clark found that constitutional meaning of "employee" included farmworkers.

Indeed, there is nothing in the language of the constitutional provision to support the suggestion that the drafters intended for the term "employees" to be narrowed or limited in any way. Accordingly, when the term "employees" is given its natural and ordinary meaning, we think it clear that the constitutional right to organize and collectively bargain extends to individuals employed as farm laborers

In his lone dissent, Justice  Stan L. Pritzker noted that the constitutional convention was held a year after the labor act was passed so the framers certainly had a very clear understanding of the law as written and did not intend to include farmworkers in the constitutional provision allowing employees to organize.

He also did not include the right to organize in his list of fundamental rights even though the right to assembly (and by extension, according to prior Supreme Court cases, the right to free association) is part of the Bill of Rights. 

From his dissent:

Fundamental rights are those deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition. They include the right to marry; the right to have children; the right to decide how one's children will be educated; and the right to engage in private consensual sexual activity."

Fundamental rights also include the right to vote, the right to travel, the right of free speech and the right of a criminal defendant to appeal. One need only imagine and compare laws that would prevent farm laborers from exercising freedom of speech, voting, traveling, marrying, raising children or appealing criminal convictions to recognize the distinction and understand why a fundamental constitutional right is not implicated here.

Further, the inclusion of the right to organize and bargain collectively in the New York Bill of Rights does not, per se, confer upon it fundamental constitutional right status (citations omitted).

The dispute over whether the right to organize is a fundamental right is important because if it's a fundamental right, it would carry more weight than the 1937 law as passed by the Legislature.

The Farm Bureau will be able to appeal the ruling to the state's Court of Appeals.

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."

February 11, 2019 - 2:37pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in michael ranzenhofer, farm labor bill, business, agriculture.

Press release:

Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer has shared his concerns with recently reintroduced legislation, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (S2837), in a letter to the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Jessica Ramos.

Senator Ranzenhofer is requesting that the bill’s sponsor garner feedback from the agriculture industry.

“For years, many local farmers have shared their fears regarding serious unintended consequences of this legislation,” said Ranzenhofer in the letter. “Agriculture is the largest industry in the state, and I believe it is critically important that local farmer concerns and the concerns of the greater agriculture community be heard.”

Senator Ranzenhofer believes that the proposal could have a devastating impact on local jobs and family farms.

“Simply put, the stakes have never been higher for farmers across New York State and additional employer mandates could have catastrophic consequences for many rural Upstate communities and consumers,” Ranzenhofer said.

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