New York Farmers and Growers See a Path Forward
Proposed Legislation May Result in Unintended Consequences: Reduced Worker Wages;
Risk of Crop Loss; Increases in Farm Debt; and Pursuit of Opportunity Elsewhere
Farmers and farmworkers continue meeting with key legislators with the goal of amending proposed legislation focused on wage requirements and employment practices that would impact more than 30,000 farms across New York State.
In its current form, the measure (S.2837/A.2750) would require overtime pay for employees working more than eight hours per day and 40 hours per week.
“I believe there is a path forward. The will exists to ensure agriculture continues to thrive; and worker protections are standardized,” said Brian Reeves, of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, and the operator of Reeves Farms, a fifth generation family-farm located in the Village of Baldwinsville (Onondaga County).
Reeves has participated in several of the sessions with legislative sponsors, committee chairs and members, including a session held on May 28 in Albany.
Earlier this month, hearings were conducted in the Mid-Hudson Valley, Central New York and Long Island, and roundtables were held at the Capitol during which farmers and farmworkers shared a number of concerns with lawmakers.
If the legislation is enacted into law as it’s currently written, farms would:
- Be forced to make significant cuts in employee hours reducing weekly wages;
- Encounter new challenges that may threaten harvests or care for animals; and
- Experience a drop in employment and activity due to staff leaving the state to pursue other agricultural jobs that allow them to work the number of hours they want or need.
“We believe it’s essential that legislators receive a clear picture of how this legislation may adversely impact workers, farmers, consumers, and livestock,” said David Fisher, President of New York Farm Bureau, who also co-owns Mapleview Dairy, a 2,000 head dairy, with members of his family in Madrid (St. Lawrence County). “We are facing some of the toughest planting conditions we’ve seen in years, brought on by seasonal weather challenges. And while I believe the legislation is well-intentioned – there will be significant consequences that will adversely impact the very people many are seeking to support. And, drive many in New York’s community of growers and dairy producers into further debt, placing the future of their farms in greater peril and potentially compromising the animals that rely on round-the-clock care.”
Today’s labor market is very competitive, and it is not unusual for New York’s farmers to provide their employees with optional days of rest, sick and holiday pay, and other significant benefits as part of worker compensation packages. However, in the absence of sufficient hours, retaining workers will be a challenge.
“Our growing season is short – and during our time here we want to work. We earn an entire year’s wages to support our families back home,” said Alfredo Mejia, who for the past 22 years has worked at My-T-Acres farm located in Batavia (Genesee County). “If we get less hours, we will move to another state to work.”