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Motion Filed for Temporary Restraining Order to Halt Provisions of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act that Violate Rights of Those Working in Agriculture

Once FLFLPA was Signed into Law, New York Became the Only State in the U.S. Preventing Private Sector Workers From Exercising Their Right to Vote in the Collective Bargaining Process

October 2, 2023 – The Grow NY Farms Coalition announced today that a motion has been filed for a Temporary Restraining Order in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York to halt provisions of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act (FLFLPA) that violate free speech and due process rights of farmworkers and farmers. Grow NY Farms is a coalition of industry leaders representing the interests of farmers, farmworkers, and agricultural organizations across New York State. Click here for the full complaint.

The Coalition supports halting the Public Employment Relations Board’s (PERB) enforcement of the collective bargaining provisions within the FLFLPA until clear and fair procedures are implemented. While the FLFLPA was well intended, necessary policy changes are needed to protect farmworkers and farmers from violating federal law, and to ensure free speech and due process rights are not only guaranteed, but enforced.

Additionally, since farms are required by law to first seek local workers before recruiting H2A guest workers through the U.S. Department of Labor, the Coalition supports policy changes that ensure the rights of both domestic and foreign workers are protected. 

Grow NY Farms Coalition supports the motion filed for a TRO and is advocating for clarity of the law and fairness for all. 

  • As interpreted by the Supreme Court, all states – including New York – are prohibited from enforcing any law or regulation that conflicts with federal law. By abiding by a collective bargaining agreement through the FLFLPA that favors rehiring foreign guest workers who are part of a union, farmers and farmworkers would violate federal immigration law. The decisions of PERB’s Hearing Officers cannot be reconciled with H2A guest worker contracts, which are filed with and sanctioned by the federal government
  • When the FLFLPA was signed into law, New York became the first and only state in the country to prevent private sector workers from exercising their right to vote for a labor representative through a fair and free secret ballot election. The Hearing Officers’ decisions and PERB’s rules violate freedom of speech and due process because they prohibit farmworkers from petitioning for decertification and they certify unions without allowing workers to vote on whether they even want a union representative in the first place. 
  • Oversight is needed for the State’s current unilateral “card-check” system, which lacks basic transparency and authenticity. PERB rulings have resulted in workers signing union cards when they’re not even employed by a New York farm, and when they are outside of the state and even the country. Once guest workers return to their home countries, they are no longer employees of the farm. Every year, workers decide months ahead of time where they want to work and for how long, before entering into a contract with a farm. Additionally, those contracts, through the U.S. Department of Labor’s federal H2A program, provide benefits and protections that go well above and beyond what an “average” employee receives in the United States.

Statement from the Grow NY Farms Coalition: “While the FLFLPA was well-intended, we’ve warned of negative consequences from the start, and now it has radically and unfairly transformed the State’s labor laws at the expense of both farmworkers and farmers. Farmworkers in New York have no right to refrain from union organizing, no right to petition for decertification, no right to revoke an unintended union dues authorization, and no right to present their grievances on their own behalf to a neutral decisionmaker. These are basic rights granted to every other private-sector worker. We are requesting swift action to provide fairness to everyone working in agriculture so that family farms and farmworkers can continue supporting our communities and feeding New York families.”

“Our entire business relies on the skilled team of workers we employ at our farm, and that includes those who are local and out-of-state,” said Brian Reeves, president of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, and co-owner of Reeves Farms in Baldwinsville (Onondaga County). “While the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act may have had good intentions, farms are required through the federal immigration system with the U.S. Department of Labor, to first seek local workers before recruiting H2A guest workers. If changes are not made, farmworkers will choose to work in other states where there is less confusion and more hours to work, and the competition from other states and countries will drive New York out of the fresh vegetable business. In order to protect the free speech and due process of everyone working in agriculture, clarity is needed and fair policies must be implemented.”

“Our family has been farming in Orange County for over 140 years. We are a skilled team of over 200 working together to pick, store, and pack the apples, and all of our experienced staff deserve to have their rights protected,” said Joel Crist, next-generation farmer at Crist Bros Orchards in Walden (Orange County). “There are weaknesses within the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act that have enabled and encouraged bad actors to exploit farm workers and our family farms. Protecting farm workers and respecting their rights is something we are passionate about and everyone should be able to agree on. Therefore, precedent-setting cases should be halted until fairness is established. We support the agricultural industry’s request that clear and fair procedures be implemented in New York State to protect the free speech and due process rights of both workers and farmers. Our family supports fair labor practices for all.”

“As a staffing company for family farms, we connect H2A guest workers with farmers in New York State and across the country,” said Brandon Mallory, CEO of Agri-Placement Services, Inc. and Specialty Crop Farm Labor Contractors in Rochester (Monroe County). “Before working with the federal government to hire guest workers, we must have contracts in place with farms months ahead of time. We employ guest workers and provide them with rent-free housing and utilities, workers’ compensation, transportation, and other benefits. These employees then work at farms that we have contracts with. We fully support fair labor practices and the rights of farmworkers, both foreign and domestic; however, we cannot be in conflict with ourselves due to a lack of clarity within state law. Changes must be made so that everyone within New York’s agriculture industry can comply with both state and federal regulations.”

“One of the top priorities on a farm is to attract and retain the skilled workforce needed to care for and harvest crops,” said Kevin Bittner, an employee and family member at Bittner-Singer Orchards in Appleton (Niagara County). “However, if farms follow the collective bargaining provisions within the FLFLPA and rehire guest workers before considering local workers, farms will be in direct violation of the federal H2A program. This is a serious problem and it should not be taken lightly by New York’s elected officials and regulatory agencies. Farmworkers deserve the right to speak up for themselves, make their own decisions, and not be coerced into situations they’re uncomfortable with, by people they don’t even know. Clear and fair policies must be implemented so that the due process and free speech of both farmworkers and farmers are protected.”

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Media Contact: Chyresse Wells

cwells@corningplace.com

518-441-3203

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