May 30, 2019
ALBANY, NY – From State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano:
The New York City lawmakers who authored the Assembly Democrats’ misguided farm labor bill seem to have forgotten two very important facts:
There is no such thing as food or farm workers without farms.
Just as I would not be an ideal candidate to write sweeping legislation completely overhauling New York City’s public housing system, downstate Democrats are likewise on shaky ground with the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (S.2837/A.2750).
Even as falling commodities prices, stifling regulations and sky-high taxes have put many family farms across the state on the brink of collapse, the Democrats’ bill would impose new, costly labor mandates that would spike costs for farmers at the worst possible time.
Our family farms are already in trouble. Over the last five years, we’ve lost 20 percent of our dairy farms. According to a 2016 economic analysis from Farm Credit East, total farm labor costs in New York State were 63 percent of net cash farm income, compared to 36 percent nationally. This one statistic alone shows what a significant competitive disadvantage our New York farmers already face, and this bill would make matters much, much worse. It would increase farm labor costs in New York State by nearly $300 million or 20 percent, resulting in an across- the-board drop in net farm income of 23 percent.
Legislators from New York City want affordable milk, fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products for their constituents, yet they don’t understand the crippling cost burdens they’re continuing to force on farm families. Their bill simply ignores the realities of farming that are common knowledge for people living in rural communities.
For example, harvest times are intense. It’s hard work, but it’s make-or-break time for the operators and for everyone who relies on them for a job. Requiring already-struggling family farmers to comply with new mandated rest and overtime regulations during the harvest would simply crush the farms out of existence.
Equally troubling is a provision that would allow farm workers to unionize. A strike during the harvest could cause a farm family to lose an entire year’s yield. The farm would never recover. Most family farms are small operations. Why should a couple of disgruntled employees be able to extort good people working hard to continue their family tradition and keep them on the payroll?
We understand agriculture in rural areas. We know that 98 percent of our farms in New York are family owned. We know that bad weather one week can cause an all-hands-on-deck blitz the next. We know that this tradition is passed down from family to family, generation to generation, farmer to farmer. We know this tradition is worth protecting. It’s responsible for billions in economic impact. It’s responsible for 198,000 jobs. It’s responsible for 35,000 proud family farms. And the bounty is obvious to every New Yorker who enjoys our amazing array of agricultural products. We feed the world.
If this bill passes, it would simply devastate the family farm in New York State. Thousands and thousands of farms will close their doors, unable to comply with the new, costly regulations. Thousands and thousands of jobs will be lost forever. And New York will lose its status as a leader in agriculture. The farms that do survive will scrape by growing the least labor-intensive crops they can find.
Sen. Tom O’Mara and I wrote a letter to the Senate and Assembly legislative leaders and their respective Agriculture and Labor Committee Chairs in March on this issue urging them to hold public hearings in every agricultural region around the state. The Senate and Assembly Republican Conferences have called for public hearings as well. There should be hearings in Long Island, the Hudson Valley, North Country, Central New York, Western New York, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier. The Senate held just three hearings and the Assembly has failed to hold even one. This is wrong and an insult to those who invest and contribute to make agriculture our state’s number one industry.
We delivered a simple message to downstate Democrats who think they understand this issue- please, talk to the families who are going to be impacted, whose traditions, livelihoods, and homes hang in the balance. We can’t rush this. At a minimum, before New York City Democrats try to advance this legislation, we must have public hearings across the state. Senator O’Mara and I and our respective Conferences believe in and will continue to speak out and fight for our family farms. We also believe they deserve the opportunity to be heard and make their own case. As I said earlier, denying them this opportunity is wrong and a complete insult to our family owned farms and our state’s number one industry.
In closing, I will reinforce two important facts. No farms, no food. No farms, no farm workers.
This is a very dangerous bill which will result in very negative and damaging consequences to our family farms, the agricultural industry and our entire state as a whole.