New York Farmworker Protection Bill
The Farmworker Protection Bill (“The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act," )_now under consideration by the New York State Legislature will HURT small farms. It will make local New York-grown food less available and more expensive.
Bill proponents Rural and Migrant Ministry (RMM), Catholic Conference of NY and others seem to understand the great public interest and concern for small family farmers and local food. The “locavore” movement is stronger than ever, and New York farmers are doing their best to bring diverse crops to market to satisfy consumers. So, in their misleading propaganda directly spread by them and indirectly by their operatives and followers, they cast this bill as something that only affects only large farms, aka "Big Ag," and a new law that won’t adversely affect small farmers.
The fact is the opposite is true. The The Farmworker Protection Bill (“The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act," ) disproportionately affects mid to small farmers, including very small and hobby farmers (of which there are many). And it is small to mid-size farms that operate in the Hudson Valley and Long Island that primarily supply the consumers in New York City with all of that fresh produce at the Greenmarkets they love. What the NYC and urban legislators need to understand is that they are going to hinder the ability for that fresh produce to come to their markets at the prices the urban consumers are accustomed to. Many of these farms will quit growing those greens and switch back to mono-cropping crops that require far less labor, leaving farmers from neighboring states and "Big Ag" to fill the void, thereby raising prices, enlarging the carbon footprint, and reducing food security.
Indeed, a number of farms in Orange County have switched from mono-cropping onions to growing a variety of vegetables. These farms supply the local farmers’ markets and the New York City Greenmarket. To grow those vegetables they have had to rely on a much bigger labor force for by-hand harvesting than needed for the more mechanized onion farming. End the overtime exemption and they will be unable to afford their labor bill. They will go back to mono-cropping onions, if they can continue to farm at all. New York State’s unemployment and overtime exemptions for agriculture match the federal standard, making us competitive with neighboring states. If overtime is enacted you say goodbye to local fresh produce, as New York farmers will be unable to compete with New Jersey or Pennsylvania farmers who don’t have to pay it. And many farmworkers will lose their jobs. That will be the real world consequences of this legislation.
Rural and Migrant Ministry (RMM) says: "The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has plenty of exemptions that allow small farms to operate the same as they have. The people who don't want change are the Farm Bureau and “Big Ag."
The New York Farm Bureau does not give large campaign contributions as bill advocates suggest. In fact, one of the biggest contributors here is New York State United Teachers, a union that aggressively supports this legislation.
Further, "Big Ag" which is already under all of these rules/mandates and will be able to better handle and afford overtime are drooling over this bill. It kills the smaller grower and family farm with small acreage and makes them more likely to go out of business or get swallowed up by that "Big Ag."
An example of how Farmworker Protection Bill (“The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act," ) will hurt SMALL farms. Here is the language of the bill:
Group 14-b. Employment as a farm laborer as provided herein. A farmer shall provide coverage under this chapter for all farm laborers [employed during any part of the twelve consecutive months beginning April first of any calendar year preceded by a calendar year in which the cash remuneration paid to all farm laborers aggregated twelve hundred dollars or more].
Follow the link to see a strike through line in the section at the end that starts with the word employed. Know what that means? Under current law if you have a farm payroll of $1,200 in a calendar year you are required to provide workers compensation, which covers something like 98% of the farms of the state. But that strike through line means that if you employ anyone, for a week or two, for a payroll of $50, you will now have to provide workers comp. That's SMALL farms who will be hit by this.
Section 11 of the bill amends section 225 of the public health law to expand the application of the state sanitary code to farmworker housing occupied by less than five migrant workers.
Do you understand what that means? Under current law if you have housing for under five farmworkers you are exempt from certain health department inspections. This bill would eliminate that exemption. (Housing inspections by other state agencies are already standard for nearly all farms.)
Specifically in regards to the Unemployment exemption, the bill does this:
Section 6 of the bill amends section 564 of the labor law to change the unemployment insurance threshold to make farmworkers eligible for benefits if their employers paid at least $6250 in a calendar quarter. A new subdivision(2) is added to eliminate unemployment contributions by employers for farmworkers who are ineligible for benefits under the federal unemployment tax act.
This is a change from the following under the old standard, which matches the federal standard:
Section 564 of the labor law excludes farmworkers from eligibility for unemployment benefits unless their employer pays at least $20,000 in cash remuneration during a calendar quarter,
Here in fact is what is struck from the old law:
S 564. Agricultural labor CREW LEADERS. [1. Coverage. (a) Notwith-
standing the provisions of section five hundred sixty of this article,
an employer of persons engaged in agricultural labor shall become liable
for contributions under this article if the employer:
(1) has paid cash remuneration of twenty thousand dollars or more in
any calendar quarter to persons employed in agricultural labor, and such
liability shall commence on the first day of such quarter, or
(2) has employed in agricultural labor ten or more persons on each of
twenty days during a calendar year or the preceding calendar year, each
day being in a different calendar week, and the liability shall in such
event commence on the first day of the calendar year, or
(3) is liable for the tax imposed under the federal unemployment tax
act as an employer of agricultural labor and the liability shall in such
event commence on the first day of the calendar quarter in such calendar
year when he first paid remuneration for agricultural labor in this
(b) An employer who becomes liable for contributions under paragraph
(a) of this subdivision shall cease to be liable as of the first day of
a calendar quarter next following the filing of a written application
provided the commissioner finds that the employer:
(1) has not paid to persons employed in agricultural labor cash remuneration of twenty thousand dollars or more in any of the eight calendar
quarters preceding such day, and
(2) has not employed in agricultural labor ten or more persons on each
of twenty days during the current or the preceding calendar year, each
day being in a different week, and
(3) is not liable for the tax imposed under the federal unemployment
tax act as an employer of agricultural labor.
The reason for the current unemployment insurance standard is we are talking about small employers that hire seasonal labor that purposefully travel to other locations to obtain work. Does government really want to discourage persons that normally travel someplace else to work to instead stay in New York State and collect unemployment insurance? That would be misguided and very costly public policy.
Pruning, growing, weeding and picking fruit is a lot of work. This is all done by hand, in a short time frame in New York. Seasonal workers help growers/farmers get that food to your table every week.