Farm Bureau outreach focused on new farm labor laws

CONTRIBUTED    Jeremy Veratti, left, member of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, talked with New York Farm Bureau President Dave Fisher during the latter's Feb. 20 visit to Niagara County to learn more about producers' concerns about new farm labor rules imposed by the state.

New York Farm Bureau President Dave Fisher spent time with farmers in Western New York last week. He wanted to learn how newly enacted state labor laws would affect them.

During his Feb. 20 visit to Niagara County, Fisher spent time with 20 producers representing fruit, vegetables, dairy and grains. Many of these producers hire migrant works or participate in the H2A guest worker program.

Numerous producers explained that the workers who come to harvest are here for a short time. They want to work as many hours as possible and then return home.

Current law requires farmers to pay overtime after 60 hours are worked. Many of the farmers stated that during peak harvest times, the workers averaged 55 hours a week. Fruits and vegetables have to be harvested when they are ready. That brought up the state's other new mandate: a day of rest. Often, weather or the lack of anything to harvest created a day of rest for the workers. Now the law mandates one day of rest every seven days and removes the flexibility farmers may need.

Some growers shared information about the financial impact this would have on a farm. In addition to the hourly wage, there are the added social security and worker compensation fees. For those who hire H2A labor, the wage rate is higher than the minimum wage in New York. One farm estimated that the extra wages will be $66,000 plus the social security and workers compensation fees. With no increase in the prices the farmers receive from their product, where will the money be found?

Current solutions would be: Cutting back on people — which means the crops won’t get harvested; or not planting the fruits or vegetables — which would reduce the size of the farm. Mechanization for harvesting isn’t an option for many crops. Younger farmers expressed their hesitancy to take over the farms. Others expressed the snowball effect. If farms cut back, the businesses that supply them experience an economic downturn. The farm has more economic challenges. Fewer workers mean less money going into the community.

As he summarized the points that the farmers made, Dave Fisher encouraged those present to do a number of things:

First, attend PX day in March. That lobbying day brings as many Farm Bureau members to Albany as possible. They meet with their legislators to explain the issues.

Second, visit the legislators in their home offices. Go to Rochester. Go to Buffalo. Talk with them one on one.” If you can bring legislators out to your farm, be prepared to make a presentation.

Third, there may be hearings around the state. Come to one with a three-minute presentation. If you have more to say, put it in writing and hand it in. Also, encourage your employees to participate. Hearing from the farmer is fine. But hearing from the person who is actually affected would carry more weight.” 

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