A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
Earlier this year the New York City-centric senate leadership, for political reasons, blocked Amazon and 25,000 jobs from coming to our state. Now, in the closing hours of the 2019 legislative session, the same group of “leaders” is killing off existing jobs by targeting our state’s number one industry – agriculture.
To be clear, when New York was announced as the winning site for the Amazon HQ2 project, I raised questions. The lack of transparency involved in constructing the deal was concerning. I have stated very clearly that we need more accountability and input when it comes to all of New York’s economic incentive programs. However, at the end of the day, I supported the project.
Amazon was to be located in Queens, but benefits would have resonated statewide. The good paying jobs, averaging $125,000 a year would have generated over $27 billion in tax revenue that would have helped the entire state. Other businesses would have flourished as well. Overall, I saw the project as a net positive.
Fast forward to the final days of the state legislative session and passage of senate bill 6578 dubbed the “Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act” which I strongly opposed. Instead of attacking some faceless corporation, this legislation takes aim at people we all know – the farmers who have been the backbone of our part of upstate New York for generations.
During debate on the bill the senate sponsor, a freshman senator from Queens, was asked how many farmers she represented. Her answer, “I can count on my hand the number of roof top apiaries that are in my district.” She did take part in a couple of hearings and farm tours earlier this year. But a few scheduled stops at a small number of hand-picked locations is a far cry from driving by farms on a daily basis, walking through barns, and talking to farmers at church, school events, and local farmers markets.
The principal components of the bill center on new labor mandates. The bill requires overtime pay for workers who work more than six days per week (regardless of hours), requires overtime pay for workers who exceed a 60-hour work week, and mandates a day of rest in every calendar week.
Farmworkers deserve a fair wage and time off, however there are certain conditions that make farming a unique business, especially in New York. Short growing seasons and weather conditions are considerable factors that farmers must contend with and cows don’t stop producing milk on Sunday. Long workdays are a way of life and a 40-hour workweek is rare.
One signal that this new labor bill is problematic is that both farmers and farm workers are opposed to many of the provisions.
The Grow NY Farms Coalition, comprised of a cross section of agricultural organizations including the New York Farm Bureau, wrote in a memo of opposition, “this bill will hurt farmworkers the most because their work hours will be restricted and their income reduced.”
Proponents of the new law say it will help farm workers. What they don’t tell you is that it will hurt those very same workers by limiting their hours and destroying employment opportunities on farms across the state.
New York farmers face strict regulations and are subject to regular inspections by state and federal authorities. Farmers also provide their workers with quality pay and in many cases, other benefits like housing and food. Farming is a unique business and must be treated as such.
I meet with farmers on a regular basis and know the personal struggles many face. High energy costs, low milk prices, never ending regulations, and out of control property taxes are just some of the obstacles our farmers deal with every day.
Farmers deserve better. Moving forward, I will stand with our farmers and work to develop new policies to cultivate growth and ensure future agriculture success for New York.