For farmers, a farm worker labor bill is as much a rite of spring as plowing their fields.
Sure enough, the state Assembly recently approved the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act. The bill would provide agricultural workers with collective bargaining rights, disability and unemployment benefits, an eight-hour workday and the expansion of the state sanitary code to cover farm and food processing labor facilities. It has been passed, in some form, for nearly 10 years by the state Assembly. Typically, the state Senate has the good sense every year to make sure the legislation is never acted upon. The closest the bill ever came to passing was in 2010, when the bill made it to the Senate floor when Democrats controlled the Senate.
One would think the Assembly would know by now the flaws with this legislation.
Numerous state and federal regulations already exist that mandate fair labor, health and safety standards, farm worker agreements and employee protections. Farmers aren't exempt from basic laws which govern all New York employees, such as the payment of minimum wage requirements, whistleblower protections, anti-human trafficking statutes and workplace harassment. The Assembly bill would simple add another layer of regulation on agriculture, a sector operating on razor-thin profit margins as it is.
Proponents also fail to explain how a 40-hour work week can work on a farm. Crops don't stop ripening when a worker's day ends at 5 p.m. Sometimes, a bad week of weather will force farmers to try to fit 60 hours of work into three days. Many farm workers know their jobs are seasonal and depend on the weather, so they work as many hours as they can when they can in order to provide for their families.
To his credit, state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell voted against the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act. State Sen. Catharine Young has steadfastly spoken against the legislation and voted against it when a vote did happen.
It's unfortunate this particular rite of spring had to be continued by downstate Democrats who have never set foot on a farm. The state Senate should do as it always has and make sure the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act never sees the light of day.