Despite the many burdens weighing on farm families, before leaving Albany last week Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature piled on one more.
Euphemistically called the “Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act,” there is nothing fair about it. It mandates overtime pay for a farmworker who voluntarily wants to work on his or her mandated day off. It fails to take into account the cost of housing many farm employers provide to many farmworkers.
Further, it creates a three-member Farm Wage Board with the power to change the law whenever it sees fit and as soon as two months after this law goes into effect. This passes the buck from the Legislature to an unelected body, an action becoming all too common under the current Legislature, including, among many others, commissions on Legislative Pay, Commuter Tax/Congestion Pricing and Taxpayer Financing of Campaigns.
From day one, I strongly opposed this move. With the state Senate now under Democrat control, the farm community has been on high alert this year, recognizing that an extreme action like this one could very well become the law of their land.
Bottom line: the Act’s approval could decimate net farm income for every sector of our leading agricultural economy and put family farms out of business.
I have shared this alarm with many colleagues, including area Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. Early this year, we called for statewide public hearings to give farmers, growers, agribusiness owners, farm community leaders, farmworkers, and all others the opportunity to testify and finally dispel the falsehoods and myths surrounding the proposal.
In part, we wrote, “The misguided and misrepresented Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act poses an extreme action at a time of already severe economic struggle for New York State farmers. Worse, the Act’s consequences would produce a nightmare of a ripple effect across local communities in every region of this state and profoundly diminish the future of high quality, local food production.”
It will indeed be a nightmare of a ripple effect. Some scenarios are stunning. It’s already been shown that total farm labor costs in New York State are at least 63 percent of net cash farm income, compared to 36 percent nationally. Farm Credit East estimates the new Act would increase farm labor costs by nearly $300 million or close to 20%, resulting in a drop in net farm income of 23%.
For New York State dairy farms barely making ends meet under current economic conditions (and keeping in mind that New York State has already lost nearly 20% of our dairy farms over the past five years), the Act could wipe out remaining net farm income.
One Southern Tier generational dairy farmer said at a Farm Bureau news conference earlier this year that the legislation would drive up her costs by more than $200,000 and put her farm out of business.
Her fears echo what many family farms now face. Far from implementing fair labor practices, this action risks an enormous loss of farms and the thousands of livelihoods these farms support.
In short, it represents another bad move at the worst possible time, when too many family farms across our region and statewide are already struggling to survive.
In a long list of similar actions this year, it is another extreme move by a radically progressive state government — under one-party control with no checks and balances — that will cost jobs, devastate hard-working families, and further weaken the foundations of local upstate economies.