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Proposed Farm Worker Labor Law At Odds With Farm Demands

By Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli
The Glens Falls Post-Star

Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli of the Post-Star wrote an article recently on the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. A preview of the article is available below. To view the full article, visit the Post-Star website.

HUDSON FALLS — Local dairy farmer John Dickinson talked with Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, at his Hudson Falls dairy on Friday about the new farm labor law currently being considered by the state legislature.

“We felt, as a business, that this was coming sooner or later,” said Dickinson, who was joined by daughter Crystal Grimaldi and Michael Bittel, president of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce. “But the gravity of the situation we did not anticipate. We certainly feel like we are under attack as a dairy industry from all sides.”

Over the past month, the Farm Workers Fair Practices Act, effectively allowing unions on farms, has been gaining traction with farm worker activist groups like Farm Worker Justice protesting in Albany and other parts of the state.

“This bill, as it stands, would certainly drive many farms out of business,” said Bittel of the chamber. “Farmers are already struggling in New York State, as it ranks No. 1 in the most expensive states to farm (land, labor costs, insurance). This bill would drive many farms out of business with the escalating mandated costs.”

As the bill currently stands, the state labor law would be amended with the passage of this bill, giving farm laborers overtime pay after an eight-hour shift, workers compensation benefits and the right to join a union.

But Dickinson said this does not fit into an agricultural model and could seriously affect smaller farms.

“We’re a large producer and I think this regulation doesn’t have significant implications for us,” said Dickinson about the family-owned dairy, Ideal Dairy Farms in Hudson Falls. Ideal currently has about 2,500 cows and 30 full-time employees. “But it is a considerable change for small producers. They are not structured to handle these changes.”

According to Woerner, who has been visiting many farms in her district, the model the bill uses is an industrial one and is not a good fit for the agricultural model.

“I don’t think the assembly is eager to take this up this year,” she said. “We’re talking about an industry that has been in a down place … to do this right now could be detrimental to New York agriculture as a whole.”

The problem, said Woerner, is that this bill follows an industrial model, but farming deals with live animals, crops and weather.

“This is not a path to success as it stands, and I could not support it,” she said.

Grimaldi mentioned that there are other industries, like law enforcement, that work longer days.

“The workers we have are all based on an 11-to-12 hour day,” Grimaldi said. ”We are running two shifts with the milking staff working an 11-hour day. That gives them around 63 hours a week.”

And Dickinson added, “We all work 12 hour days. Its just the culture, it’s a business and a lifestyle.”

Ideal Dairy Farms employees are paid between $40,000 and $65,000, plus housing, utilities and cable.

Bittel said that if passed, the financial pressure of overtime after eight hours may lead to more automation and less hours for workers, if farmers are to stay in business.

“I have had long conversations with Saratoga apple producers and they said, ‘we would have to schedule people for 35 hours and try to hire additional people,’” she said. “People who want to work 60 hours will have to get a second job. Commodity prices are fixed,; if you jack up labor costs, you have to make adjustments to manage costs.”

For the full article, visit the Post-Star website.

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