Good For Big City Politics, Not For Family Farms

Earlier this year, it became clear that Governor Andrew Cuomo and a state Legislature under one-party Democrat control were preparing to enact far-reaching legislation that will affect New York farming for generations.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and I immediately called for a comprehensive series of statewide public hearings. In a letter to the governor and legislative leaders 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.”

Unfortunately, comprehensive public hearings never happened. The legislation was sponsored by two Democrat state legislators from Queens, New York City — a stronghold of the Democratic Socialists of America (the largest socialist organization in the United States), the same base that socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hails from. The Democrat-controlled Legislature approved the legislation over strong Republican opposition. Recently, Governor Cuomo held a bill-signing ceremony in a New York City newsroom, with not one farmer present, to officially enact a new law with potentially devastating consequences for family farms and rural economies.

For many observers, it is further proof that the new “Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act” is largely motivated by extreme liberal, far-left politics. Governor Cuomo stood behind a podium in the newsroom of the New York Daily News in Manhattan, a paper whose pages have long stood for far-left causes like this one, to polish his own “progressive” far-left credentials.

Opponents, including the New York Farm Bureau and Unshackle Upstate, have warned that it will have profound repercussions throughout local farm economies.

The president of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association said, “It is upsetting that state lawmakers have placed rural New York at a serious disadvantage in our ability to compete in the market place and provide economic opportunities for our employees. This new law failed to take common sense into account.”

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, a dairy farmer, added, “New York’s farmers have been at the table from the beginning asking for a workable solution. Common ground should have considered what farms can afford and the opportunities our employees will lose as a result of this law.”

I debated and voted against the measure on the floor of the Senate on June 19, a debate available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvX0je1uxv0&feature=youtu.be.

My main point was this: It is another extreme move by a radically progressive state government, under one-party control, that will cost jobs, devastate hard-working farm families, and further weaken the foundations of local upstate economies.

Mandatory overtime pay and other actions called for under the new law, including the creation of a three-member Farm Wage Board granted the authority to unilaterally change the law’s provisions (similar to the wage board that unilaterally increased the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15-per-hour a few years ago), will increase farm labor costs. Estimates are that the state’s already exorbitant farm labor costs will increase by nearly $300 million or close to 20%, resulting in an across-the-board drop in net farm income of 23% and driving farmers out of business. Over the past five years, in fact, New York State has lost 20 percent of our dairy farms.

Nevertheless, Governor Cuomo went to a big city newsroom, not an upstate farm, to enact the law. That speaks volumes about the true motivation behind this extreme liberal, far-left action, and its consequences.

Good for big city, liberal socialist politics. Bad for upstate New York’s family farms.

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