Republican lawmakers call for additional hearings on farmworkers bill

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Farm workers would be restricted to an eight hour work day and a 40-hour work week, with overtime pay of one and one-half times the normal rate beyond those hours, under legislation being considered in the Senate and Assembly. Three public forums on the proposal have been scheduled, but Republican lawmakers are calling for additional hearings on the bill.

Last month, the New York Farm Bureau spoke out against the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (S.2837/A.2750) with the backing of New York state family farmers. The state Senate has agreed to hold hearings on the legislation to determine how the legislation will proceed.

According to Farm Credit East, a lending, leasing and payroll services company that serves farms in New York and a handful of other states, the bill would have a harsh impact on family-owned farms. An analysis of the legislation by Farm Credit East suggests that the bill would increase labor costs on New York farms by 17 percent, or a combined $299 million a year.

The farmers who be affected made their voice heard at a press conference in Albany last month, and they are now being joined in their fight against the proposed legislation by a dozen Republican state senators who say three hearings on the controversial bill is not enough to get a true sense of the bill’s impact on the state’s agricultural industry.

Senator Robert Antonacci and a dozen of his colleagues authored a letter to the Agriculture and Labor chairs requesting that community hearings  on the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act be held across the entire state. Joining Antonacci in signing the letter were Senators Pamela A. Helming, Rob Ortt, Rich Funke, George A. Amedore Jr., Chris Jacobs, Sue Serino, James Tedisco, Daphne Jordan, Betty Little, Thomas O’Mara and Fred Akshar.

Three hearings have been scheduled to take place April 25 at SUNY Morrisville; April 26 on Long Island and May 2 at SUNY Sullivan.

Antonacci and his colleagues say farmers in the Capital Region, the Hudson Valley, North Country, Southern Tier, and Western New York are being shut out of the discussion on the controversial bill and their input is needed before lawmakers act on the bill.

“The significance of this legislation for farmers warrants additional upstate public hearings. The failure to schedule these hearings limits the opportunity for upstate farm owners to provide vital input regarding this initiative, which would negatively impact the farm industry Statewide,” Antonacci said.

The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act would restrict farm workers to an eight hour work day and a 40-hour work week, and mandate overtime pay of one and one-half times the normal rate.

In addition to the overtime pay requirement, the legislation would also grant collective bargaining rights to farm laborers; make them eligible for unemployment insurance; require that the sanitary code applies to all farm worker housing, regardless of the number of occupants; and provide them workers’ compensation benefits.

While the Farm Bureau opposes the overtime restrictions of this bill, there are other aspects that they feel are important and would like to see passed into law. Included in the farm worker labor bill is a required 24 consecutive hour rest period to be offered to employees that the Farm Bureau has supported in recent years.

“We want lawmakers to take a hard look at the numbers,” said New York Farm Bureau Public Policy Director Jeff Williams, while in Albany last month. “Rural New York matters.”