Farmworkers deserve to be treated with respect, but the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act concerns me. While its supporters mean well, the economic realities facing family farms will make it difficult for many farms to survive the legislation’s higher costs.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York has lost about 9 percent of its farms in the past five years, triple the national average, in part because of the depressed farm economy and rising labor costs.
Most New York farms already pay well above minimum wage to attract and retain quality employees. That’s in addition to providing free housing, transportation and other benefits. However, state lawmakers are looking to impose overtime on an eight-hour workday and 40-hour week, dramatically raising costs by $300 million, according to Farm Credit East. Compounding this, farms outside of New York produce food more cheaply. We can’t just raise prices in a competitive marketplace to make up for the higher wages.
A unique schedule is why agriculture is historically excluded from providing overtime. Some long days are required, in part because of weather and a fickle growing season. It is common sense, if farms can’t afford overtime, farmworkers will lose hours and thereby receive smaller paychecks, hurting those the bill is seeking to help.Farm Bureau is supportive of a day of rest for employees. We also support a viable farm economy. Without that, rural New York, jobs on and off the farm, and access to local food will suffer.
Nathan Blesy, president Cattaraugus County Farm Bureau