State law grants farm workers new labor rights
ALBANY (AP)--New York farm workers have the right to unionize, get overtime pay and take at least one day off per week under a labor law signed Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act eliminates an 80-year-old provision in New York state law that prohibits agricultural workers from unionizing. It also makes them eligible for unemployment insurance, disability, paid family leave and worker compensation benefits and requires overtime pay for more than 60 hours per week. The law also requires farmers to improve conditions in worker housing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the law "a milestone in the crusade for social justice." It takes effect Jan. 1.
Farm owners had argued the mandates were too burdensome for an industry already under stress from declining prices, tariffs and labor shortages. They told lawmakers the act would force them to cut back on employment and that a workers' strike at a busy time of year would be devastating.
State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) said, "The fact that the governor signed this disastrous farm labor bill in New York City in the company of far-left politicians and special interest groups and not actual farmers tells you everything you need to know about this legislation. It is an unprecedented attack on farm families and our state's number one industry. It hammers them with hundreds of millions of dollars in skyrocketing labor costs and job-killing mandates at a time when they're already struggling to stay afloat.
"Over the past five years, we've lost 20 percent of our dairy farms. According to a Farm Credit East study, net farm income has plummeted 50 percent statewide over the past few years. Nationally, labor costs account for 36 percent of net farm income. In New York state, it's 63 percent. So New York farmers are already at a competitive disadvantage compared to those in neighboring states. The governor's bill will make it much worse. Ninety-eight percent of the farms in New York state are family owned, and they have no control over the prices they can charge for their products. There is no way for them to generate the needed revenue to keep up with these increased costs and mandates."
But farm workers and their supporters noted that the nation's top agricultural state, California, already allows farm workers to unionize, and the industry remains robust.
A state appeals court ruled in May that exclusion of farm workers from basic labor protections afforded to other workers was unconstitutional.
David Fisher, a dairy farmer and president of the New York Farm Bureau, said the final version of the legislation signed by Cuomo was better than the original bill, which would have required overtime pay for more than 40 hours a week. But he said it will still lead to significant financial challenges for farmers.
"I'm afraid this could be the breaking point for our orchard and many like ours across the state," said Sarah Dressel, of New Paltz, chair of the New York Apple Association's board of directors.