BUFFALO — A federal judge has temporarily blocked New York state from enforcing parts of a landmark farm labor law that was due to go into effect Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo in Buffalo issued a temporary restraining order against the state after a coalition of New York dairy and vegetable farmers filed a last-minute lawsuit Monday.
The new law gives New York farmworkers the right to unionize, collect overtime pay and take at least one day off per week for the first time in the state’s history. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the historic legislation in July.
The judge’s order gives the state and the farmers until Jan. 24 to try to reach a settlement in the case before a hearing on a preliminary injunction.
The New York State Vegetable Growers Association and Northeast Dairy Producers Association say their lawsuit does not challenge provisions of the law that require farmworkers to be paid overtime and to be given at least one day off per week.
Instead, the farmers are asking for clarity on part of the law that for the first time gives farmworkers the right to form unions and collectively bargain with their employers.
Farm owners say the law appears to classify them, their family members and supervisors as “farm laborers” who have the right to engage in collective bargaining and other pro- or anti-union activity, even though such activity would be banned under federal law.
“Providing clarity to New York’s farms will help us protect our management teams, while assuring family members and others employed on our farms are treated fairly,” said Jon Greenwood, chair of the Northeast Dairy Producers Association and co-owner of Greenwood Dairy Farm in Canton.
The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act as of Jan. 1 now requires employers to make farmworkers eligible for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation benefits. Farmers also must comply with new standards to improve conditions at labor camps.