Agriculture Worker Mandate

Date: 2010

June 28, 2010

RE: AN ACT to amend the labor law
 
                                                                         S. 8223 (Espada)
                                                                     A. 11569 (Rules/Nolan)
 
                                                              MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION
 
Unshackle Upstate, a bi-partisan coalition of over 80+ business and trade organizations representing a growing group of 70,000 companies and employing more than 1.5 million people oppose the enactment of the aforementioned bill. This bill would amend the Labor Law to establish unnecessary, bureaucratic and costly new requirements for farm employees. The legislation purports to aid New York farm workers, but in reality, will actually adversely affect the majority of farm workers in this state.
 
When ranked nationally, farmers in New York have the second highest labor costs - behind only the state of California, according to national agricultural statistical data. This is both good evidence that our farmers treat and compensate their workers fairly and well but also shows that New York farmers, already faced with higher property and tax and energy costs, are also in a competitive disadvantage when it comes to other states.
 
New York farmers cannot afford additional mandates that put our business at competitive disadvantages, especially for food production, which is now a global marketplace rather than a local one. The import share of U.S. consumed food has recently climbed from 8% to more than 11%. Mexico is now the source of 27 percent of U.S. fruit imports and 38 percent of vegetable imports. It is no surprise that the import share of U.S. consumed food has largely been of food which is not often mechanically harvested.
 
New York farms are 99% family owned. These mom and pop businesses provide the connecting links between the upstate cities and rural towns. Farming is an economic multiplier business; the average farm dollar turns around between 4 to 6 times in the local economy, feeding other local families through employment on the farm, purchases of equipment and services like blacksmithing and custom harvesting. There is clear evidence that without these family businesses the rural devastation would be much greater than you see today.
 
Unshackle Upstate shares the following specific concerns on this legislation with the New York Farm Bureau:
 
Overtime pay simply isn't workable on a farm. Wisconsin tried mandating overtime for farm employers -- and repealed the law in 2003 because of the damage it did to the state's dairy economy and consumers.
 
o At harvest time, farmers and their workers have to scramble to bring in the crop on days of favorable weather. If legislation limits the number of days or hours workers can work,
then farmers would be limited in their ability to bring in the crop before it over ripens and
rots.
o Along with the devastation to the farm economy and to the farm workers themselves
(since their hours will be cut), the losers would include consumers who prefer locally
produced foods.
 
Collective bargaining presents similar problems: A strike in the middle of harvest would put farmers
at an unfair disadvantage in any collective-bargaining negotiations since farmers are at the mercy of
harvesting a perishable product.
 
Unemployment insurance is already mandatory for medium and larger farm operations per federal
requirements. But this bill demands it on even small farms -- like the ones found in the New York
City Greenmarkets, who employ just a worker or two for the planting and harvesting seasons.
 
In conclusion, this legislation would inappropriately impose unsustainable wage mandates on private
farms and makes the false assumption that these mandates will have no impact on our New York farms.
These wage mandates will likely result in fewer jobs for farm workers as more of our food will be
produced in other states and other countries. Government should not be in the business of adversely
impacting the job market because of misguided impressions of farming and farm worker needs.
 
For these reasons, Unshackle Upstate opposes the enactment of this legislation.