Sen. Jessica Ramos, a first-term state legislator from Queens, and sponsor of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act visited Batavia and Elba yesterday to meet with farmers and farmworkers at the invitation of Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer.
In the morning she and Ranzenhofer hosted a discussion with more than a dozen area farmers and some of their workers in the foyer of the Call Arena at Genesee Community College. That event was closed to the press and a reporter who showed up was asked to leave.
In the afternoon, Ramos visited the Torrey Farms Big-O onion packing facility in Elba and when The Batavian arrived, we were not asked to leave and were able to obtain exclusive coverage of the event. We were unable to interview Ramos at the event because of a scheduling conflict but expect to be able to talk with her soon.
At yesterday's event, we spoke with farmworkers and farmers and were told repeatedly that farmworkers do not favor the farmworkers bill because they fear it will mean fewer hours and less money.
Farmworkers said they understand the weather-driven variability of farm work and they said that it is critical to their ability to making a living that they be able to pack in as many hours in a week as they can when the sun is shining. They depend on the income to take care of family members back home, their families here, to pay mortgages, send kids to college, and fund their own business-ownership dreams.
Farmers said that if the proposed overtime laws pass, they will be forced to reduce hours worked by their employees and that their migrant employees, who don't have ties to the area, will likely leave for nearby states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they can work as many hours as they want.
UPDATE 11:20 a.m.: Sen. Ramos canceled our interview scheduled for this afternoon.