Farm Bureau President Dean Norton tells the Watertown Daily Times that a bill that would raise farm worker wages isn't necessary and will do more harm than good, for farmers and workers.
"If passed, this bill would put our industry into a major tailspin and wreck the already struggling upstate and Long Island economy," said Dean Norton, President of New York Farm Bureau and a Batavia dairy farmer.
Mr. Norton spoke at a press conference in Albany on Monday afternoon.
"The tragic irony of the situation is that the sponsors are primarily from New York City or urban areas, and most of them have never been on a farm," Mr. Norton said. "If the bill's sponsors spent some time understanding the issue, talking to farmers and farm workers, they would know that the bill doesn't actually benefit the worker."
The bill is scheduled for an Assembly floor vote this week and could increase farm costs by $200 million per year.
Sen. Catharine M. Young is critical of the legislative leadership for letting the bill get this far, because if it goes to a floor vote, there may be hard-to-resist pressure on many members to support it.
Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, said, "The only way to stop it is for it never to come to the floor for a vote."
She is the ranking minority member on the Agriculture Committee. She called the Times and criticized Sen. Aubertine for not quashing the bill in committee by talking to Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith. Mr. Aubertine, however, is not on the committee that will send the bill to the floor.
She said union special interests are driving the bill.
"If it is allowed to come to the floor, people are going to have to be held accountable," she said. "There's a chance it will pass and it will be devastating for the upstate economy."
The Farm Bureau argues that the bill, besides being burdensome, is unnecessary:
Among other provisions, the omnibus bill would also allow farm workers to unionize, mandate one day off per week for farm workers, call on farms to provide unemployment insurance, workers compensation and disability insurance for injuries off the job.
According to the Farm Bureau, farm workers already have stronger protections in the state than under federal law. Medium- and large-sized farms already provide unemployment insurance. All farms follow a state sanitary code for migrant and seasonal housing that is stricter than the federal code.
Farms provide free housing, transportation and utilities for their workers. New York is one of two states with a housing program for farm workers. Farm employees also have work agreements for the type of work, wages, work hours, pay period, benefits and vacation and other arrangements.
Assemblyman Steve Hawley opposes the bill and posted a column alerting the public to the pending legislation last week.
Pictured above are Hawley and members of the Farm Bureau. The picture was submitted this morning by Hawley's office.
UPDATE: Additional coverage from the D&C, which quotes a proponent of the bill:
"We deserve to have a day of rest, to be paid overtime and to join a union if we choose — just like anyone else," farm worker Salvador Solis said in a news release from the Justice for Farmworkers group, which is pushing the bill.