A Final Farewell to George Frederick Lamont

On March 13, 2020 we all lost a generational person. George was simply in a field of his own.  I find it very “George” that he passed on Friday the 13th. He always had his own spin on any event. I think George’s greatest gift was he was never satisfied. This is not to say he was a negative thinker. On the contrary he simply felt we just have not researched enough to be content. He unlike most embraced change. If everything was to remain fixed, we would all be driving horses. To George it never was a question if the glass was half full or half empty. If we were questioning the state of the bloody glass it was long overdue to get a new glass.

I will not begin to list his many personal and industry accomplishments. To all of you, like myself, we each have a favorite story of just how George Lamont interacted with your life. My first memory of George was in the living room of my home growing up. George was the youngest member at this gathering of forward-thinking apple leaders.  He was already looked upon as an innovator that deserved to be heard by seasoned leaders in our industry.  If George was involved in any discussion it was a certainty that he would be questioning why we were not heading in a new direction.

Today the fruit industry is facing grave challenges in marketing, new labor regulations, varietal shifts

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

and a list that seems to increase daily. In truth this was the world of George Lamont. He always projected a calm air of confidence that we would survive the current challenges and rise to a better place as a result. For every question there must be an answer. It may take a while to uncover but it was always there if you had the imagination to look beyond the present.

Even in his later years he created challenges most people would not ever consider. The last time I personally talked to George was at Jim Allen’s retirement party. He told me that he was living in Saranac Lake. I asked him why there? He quickly named the highest mountains in the Adirondacks. It was his personal challenge to climb each one. I do not know if he ever finished this last project. If not, it was certainly not for trying.

As I have already reported we face numerous challenges ahead in our industry. We do not know today how we will resolve these new hurtles. I guess we each should ask ourselves if an 80-year-old man can have the vision to climb the highest peaks in the Adirondacks than we should not feel any mountain that lies ahead of us is too tall. When we do solve this new series of challenges do not be surprised if you hear George in the back of your mind ask you “What took you so long? We still have much to do.”

George you will be missed but never replaced. Word of advice George be a little patient with Saint Peter! I doubt he has had many the likes of you to deal with!

Farm Labor Wage Board Hearings

Last June the New York State Legislature passed the Farm Laborers Fair Practice Act. It has many new regulations for the new rules of farm worker employment. The two most obvious rules were the establishment of a 60-hour overtime limit and the right for farm workers to join a union of their choice. At the very last hour during final debates a Wage Board was added to the bill. The singular purpose of this wage board is to determine if the 60-hour standard is fair and accurate. This board, upon review, may hold it at 60 or lower it to a lower number. It cannot remove it or raise the limit above 60. This wage board is to be made up of three representatives. One from NY Farm Bureau, one from the AFL-CIO and one from NYS Labor.

One of the unsettling aspects of the passage of this Act was that there was no set time for the industry to adjust to this new 60-hour standard. Other similar passages in other States have always allowed a 5-year or longer period of time. This was very obviously omitted from this Act. Therefore, the industry has no security that this 60-hour level will remain a standard. Lurking in everyone’s mind is the very real possibility that the newly established wage board will institute a lower level.

The Wage Board will meet five times in early spring. This will range from February 28 to April 23, 2020. These will be public hearings at which time people may have three minutes to make a statement as to the ruling in question. It will be absolutely essential for many voices from agriculture to take the time to express their concerns. Failure to do so will send a strong message that agriculture is in full support of a lower standard for overtime on our farms.

All concerned citizens will be afforded the opportunity to express their opinion. This means advocates for a 40-hour standard will be sharing the stage. We must counter this by offering concise logical reasons this simply has no economic room at this time on our farms.

I will be in attendance at the last 4 hearings. I personally will offer comments at two of the hearings. It is

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

so critical that despite your very busy work schedules you present at least at one of these hearings. We will only curtail future damage if we present a consistent argument. Below you will find some supporting reading for you on this. You must register on-line before the hearing. You will not be offered an opportunity to speak if you do not register. Below you will find the web address for you to register. www.ny.gov/content/flflpa-wage-board-hearings-sign

If you have any difficulty feel free to reach out to me for help.

You may struggle with what to say. Three minutes is really not very long. They stick to the three-minute time. Do not waist time with polite openings. Get directly to the issue. You will be asked to leave a written copy. The fact that you present will be as important as what you say. Your silence will be filled by voices for advocates for 40 hours. Can you really justify this? This is perhaps the most critical battle you will ever have to face. Farming in 2020 has no room for survival at 40 hours. The grocery stores will be fully stocked but not with food from New York farms.

Message From Brian Reeves – PLEASE PARTICIPATE IN THE WAGE BOARD HEARINGS THIS MARCH AND APRIL

 As you can see by the attached announcement, the NYSDOL has scheduled 5 hearings across the state for the newly appointed Wage Board.  It is imperative that farmers and farmworkers turn out and tell their stories.  If we are to have any chance of convincing Albany to keep the overtime threshold at 60-hours, we need to tell our story of how lowering the threshold will threaten the viability of our farms.  While our economic story is critical, we must also make sure that farmworkers turn out also and tell why they do not want their hours cut any more.  These hearings come at a bad time for us, many of us don’t have many of our workers hear yet and we will be getting very busy soon, but we must make the effort to show up and be heard.  I have attached some guidelines on how to have your workers testify and I believe Farm Bureau also has some tips on testifying.  Please reach out to me if you need any help.

 Brian Reeves 315-243-1660

 NYSDOL Announces Farm Labor Wage Board Hearings

The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has announced that the wage board will hold five hearings across the state, beginning this Friday and going through April. The wage board was created by the recently enacted Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act and is statutorily required to hold its first hearing by March 1st to consider lowering the current 60-hour work week threshold for overtime. Under the Act, the Wage Board must hold at least three hearings at which the public will be afforded an opportunity to provide comments.  The board will hold five hearings in various parts of the state and consider the input it gathers from farmers and other stakeholders.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, a NEDPA member from Madrid, NY holds one seat on the three-member wage board. The other two members include Brenda McDuffie, appointed by the DOL Commissioner, and Denis Hughes, representing AFL-CIO. McDuffie is the chair of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and President and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. Hughes has served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and is past President of NY AFL-CIO.

Public hearings are scheduled as follows: 

  •  Friday, February 28– 11am – Albany – New York State Museum Cultural Education Center, Clark Auditorium, 222 Madison Avenue, Albany, NY 12230
  • Friday, March 13– 11am – Syracuse – Onondaga Community College, Storer Auditorium,  4585 W. Seneca Turnpike, Syracuse, NY  13215
  • Monday, March 23– 11am– Binghamton – Binghamton University, Symposium Hall, Center of Excellence Building Innovative Technology Complex, 45 Murray Hill Road, Vestal, NY 13850
  •  Thursday, April 16– 11am – Long Island – Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville, NY 11738
  • Thursday, April 23– 11am – Batavia – Geneseo Community College, William Stuart Forum, 1 College Rd., Batavia, NY

    All attendees are encouraged to preregister. Those making public comment will be scheduled in the order of registration. Individuals can register at: http://www.labor.ny.gov/farmwageboard.

TALKING POINTS FOR FARM WORKERS AT THE WAGE BOARD HEARINGS

 1.Overtime after 60 hours

Most farm workers I have talked to have said they want to make as much money as they can to send back to their families.  At first, the payment of time-and-one-half sounds good until the farmer explains that they won’t be able to pay that much and will try to limit their hours to close to 60 per week.  Most farmworkers are not pleased with the reduction in hours per week, but often times 60 is not that much less than most weeks they have worked in the past so they can live with it.  But most workers have made it clear that if the hours decrease much more, they will go to other states which will freely allow them to work more hours and make more money per week.  Explaining this to the farm worker is critical so they can explain in the hearing they don’t want this restriction on work and will try to go where they can get more hours.

  1. Mandatory 1 day of rest per week which the worker can opt out of and if they opt out, all hours worked are paid at time-and-one-half

The vast majority of farms have determined that they can’t afford much overtime, so they require one 24-hour period off each week.  This automatically reduces the potential number of hours a worker will be paid for each week and again the workers are not happy about it.

  1. I often hear farmers talk about how much less money their workers can make working in Mexico.  Whenever labor advocates hear this they bristle at the comment and claim that this is the USA and the pay and/or housing should be much better than Mexico.  

A better way to approach this subject would be to have the farm worker talk about the opportunity that working in the US provides, and describe the decent house his family can afford in Mexico, and how he is able to provide a better living for his family because he has a chance to work on our farms in the US.

  1.  I would suggest having conversations with ALL of your workers (both domestic and immigrant) about the purpose of these hearings and if you have any doubts about the language comprehension, consider hiring a good translator to avoid any misunderstanding later. I hope these tips are helpful and should only be followed if it fits for your farm.  The more discussion you can have with your farm workers about the issues the more comfortable they will be talking about them when the time comes.  

 

Life is a Series of Choices

If you really stop to think of it every one of us is on a different life path. Yes, we may have many similarities with family and friends but none of us are exactly alike. The reason is because when presented with a “life altering” decision we each have different keys to making that decision.

There is no one perfect formula to how to manage your business. Every farm has select pressure points. In 2020 you will be asked to begin to make choices as to how to coexist with the new Farm Labor Act here in New York State. One choice you will not have is to decide to ignore it. It is the law so we must accept it for what it is and learn to function within its rules.

Most every person I have confronted is nervous as to how to deal with the pending possibility of having a labor union on their farm. At the Becker Forum this last January Brad Goehring, a wine grower from California, addressed the group. California has had many seasons of dealing with labor unions. His message was really quite simple. Your help really has no desire to join a labor union so long as you choose to be a good employer. Less than 10% of the farm labor in California is currently under union direction. Farm workers do not want to be told what they can and cannot do by a union. They most certainly do not wish to have to pay dues.

I feel very confident in stating that as an employer you value your work force. You have bu

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

ilt your team many times over decades. It is the single most important production piece in your portfolio. As needs and wages changed you found ways to meet these demands. In short you made choices that were in the best interest of your farm and everyone associated with it. This is what being a good employer does. You do not fear a union organizer coming to promise new things which they in truth have no control over. They can claim to say they will get workers higher wages but in truth they do not have that power. You on the other hand can act on your promises.

In 2020 we will need to illustrate to our legislators that we are choosing to comply with this new legislation. To try to undermine the basic tenants of the Act will only encourage new legislation that is not necessary. The Democratic controlled Senate has very little in common with production agriculture. From Niagara County to Albany there is only one Democratic Senator. Senator Rachel May in the 53rd district in the Syracuse area is the lone Senator. Senator Tim Kennedy from Erie County in the 63rd district in South Buffalo is the closest. To further illustrate the divide the Republican Senators in New York have in excess of $5 billion of farm assets in their collective districts. The majority of Democratic Senators have a grand total of $365 million in farm assets. We have an enormous educational challenge ahead of us if we are to garner the needed votes to approve the funding for all the various agricultural programs that flow through Albany.

So, we end by accepting that individually and collectively we have many choices to make in 2020. Individually I trust you will make the best choices for your farm and family. Collectively we need to invest in educating our legislators as to the mutual need for a strong and progressive agriculture in New York State. Unfortunately, we all cannot live on a farm in New York State. We all are consumers of the tremendous products and clean water that are a product of our choices.

2020 year of Opportunity and New Directions

You did not select being a fruit farmer because of the constant repetition in the work. Farming is, at times, too unpredictable but it certainly stretches your personal skills to the max. Let’s take a moment and try to for see what might be lying in wait for us in the next year.

To begin, it will be the first year under the new farm worker bill. Every farm will be attempting to maximize the work schedules and fall close to or slightly above the new overtime limits of 60 hours. I am not too nervous over this as I see it having some side benefits as it forces employers to place higher emphasis on the work tasks assigned. We will each learn to meet this challenge. Honestly I see this as a challenge but need not be one that will drastically put farms in grave risks.

The next needed fresh look or perhaps opportunity will for each farm to stop and reassess the variety

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

break down in their portfolios. As an industry we have always seen new varieties enter and in time push aside older ones. The only difference today it that this evolution seems to now come at a faster pace. The consumer will have the final verdict as to what they will place in their cart. Our farms will forever, moving forward, be driven by this shopping cart choice. Take the time to ask, observe and then act to make certain you are investing those new 60 hour work weeks in the correct spot.

Thirdly we need to understand that the marketing order will be up for certification in 2 years. This offers a great opportunity to review past directions and take a fresh look at how this order can be structured to best serve the present needs of your farm. I strongly encourage you to maintain the order. That being said I just as strongly need you to ask yourself how you want the order to be administered to best help you bring improved financial returns to your farm. If you see the order as an expense than I think you have failed to give the order the direction it deserves to be an asset. Orders only work when they have the support and creative inputs to be successful.

I think fruit production in the future will be different. That is good. We began by agreeing we are not the type of worker who can survive 52 weeks a year doing the same task. We are lucky living here in the north. Once a year it forces us to take a step back due to weather to review what we are doing. Spring will be knocking on your door too soon. Take Mother Nature’s cue and review before you plunge into perhaps outdated tasks. The future is yours to design.

Callie Baker –Lessons She Taught Me

Last Friday evening my foreman passed away in her sleep. She was going to be 12 this December. She was by my side as I wrote these messages to each of you. Her dedication and loyalty was a constant reminder of exactly what it takes to be a farmer. She never complained about today but instead looked forward to tomorrow. As they say in agriculture, hope springs eternally each year. To her it was the excitement of just the fresh air hitting her as we rode to our next destination. In short, she never complained and looked forward to the next new adventure.

Her passing made me pause. Nothing lasts forever. Everything worthwhile needs hope. My question today is, are we on the verge of an enormous shift in all of agriculture? I see the erosion of the traditional family farm. The family farm is still the base but economic necessity is making those that continue need the core of generations before. Recently we loss John Fowler. He was fifth generation. He did not get to where he was alone. It took dedication from many Fowler’s long gone.

Change is going to happen in everything we come in touch with today. Farming is not exempt. To build the base necessary to have a commercial farm today it almost has to come from inspiration from generations before you. I have often jokingly referred to farming as the “curse of our Fathers.” Most of the large farms of today are a result of generations learning their trade and expanding to adapt to change.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

I said earlier that “everything worthwhile needs hope.”  I am very concerned that not all those who are willing to take up the challenge of agriculture will always have that feeling, like Callie did, that tomorrow would be exciting and full of opportunity.

As a fruit farmer you collectively agree to have funds deducted from your account to invest in applied research. In the short run, funds could most likely be better used to buy that new tractor you desperately need. Research is a gamble, with no certainty to success. The only certainty you have is, if you do not have research you will stagnate and fall by the wayside. There would be no new orchard systems or exciting varieties to grow without it. Research is for the future. Research offers hope and new opportunity.

Callie reminded us all that no matter how good things are today they will not last forever. Change is on the horizon. Farming is not for everyone. In fact, it is for a very select few. Life depends on the constant renewal of food supplies. We must not allow the remaining few who are willing to accept the “curse of their Fathers” to ever lose hope.

Our challenge then is to somehow educate, enlighten and convince all those mouths we feed each day. We have no choice but to protect agriculture and all those who are willing to accept the challenge of feeding us.

Callie would hate to think that there never again would be a pickup truck window rumbling down a farm lane to ride in. For all the future “Callie’

s” let’s make certain we keep this industry full of hope. Time will record if we allowed this industry to pass away. Remember nothing last forever

New Season Ahead.  Are You Ready for What Lies Ahead?

Is it just me or is there a feeling of uncertainty about this crop? I think many growers are coming to the reality that too much of their acreage is no longer in peak demand. The shelves are seeing new names that have now so slowly replaced long standing favorites. While the apple shelf space is still impressive it cannot hold all varieties.

A few years ago, the Eastern crop had a record low crop due to poor weather. The apple shelves did not go bear. Fruit from outside the traditional reach found its way to our markets to fill this gap. Life has never been the same. New supple ties were made and new varieties became available to our consumers. We did not lose our apple consumer they simply had a new list to select from.

We need to accept that our consumer is not the consumer of our parents. That consumer was happy

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

to drive a Ford or Chevy. Today’s consumer wants to select from all the types of cars of the world. Our apple consumer is no different. Our challenge is to accept this reality and wisely move forward. To hold onto older varieties is similar to trying to sell yesterday’s newspaper.

So how do we meet this shift? It may sound like a broken record, but we must continue to invest in research. We need to invest in production and marketing research. We may know how to design the modern orchard but what good is it if we have the wrong variety. I believe we need to make the effort to partner with our State and Federal policy makers to invest in much needed research.

We all know the struggles we are currently having with shifts in public policy on farm labor. We cannot allow this debate to dampen our efforts to increase funding for research. If our labor is to cost us more we certainly need to be harvesting the most desirable crop.

I am confident that in many ways this year will see a huge shift in our orchards. We cannot take the attitude that we will grow what we want despite the consumer shift. We truly do farm today from the shopping cart back to the farm. Embrace change but first make every effort to research that change.

Farm Worker Fair Labor Practice Act -Part Two

One year ago we all were trying to project what might happen in Albany with the new party balance. It really came as no surprise that we would be faced with a huge effort to alter the farm worker rules in our State. After months of the most united effort by NYS agriculture the Governor recently passed the Farm Worker Fair Labor Practice Act. It was hoped that if and when such an act would be passed we could each make long term plans based upon the act. This is not the case. The ink is not dry from the signature by the Governor and there are rumblings by the Senate and Assembly that they want more.

In August I currently know of two meetings to be held by agriculture to discuss first the current Act and second what we need to do to be prepared by the new demands. Unfortunately in my opinion this act has opened up a new energy by those who do not wish to understand agriculture to do even more. The newly created farm worker review board is of course one concern. The second is that by gaining passage of this act those in the legislature have gained new energy to push for more. We had hoped we would have time to absorb the new Act.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Questions are coming in faster than answers. Every farm now has to have in place a procedure to deal with when and if their employees wish to unionize.  What impact will it have on every farm in NYS if a farm is unionized and that farm is forced to meet new rules from labor? Will this then not set a precedent to be pushed upon all farms?  We need to really have frequent and open discussions with our help as to if they are approached by labor organizers how to respond. No doubt the picture that will be presented will be void of many of the realities of unionization.

In short, farms are very much in jeopardy moving forward. I can only hope that we can maintain our united collective voice in dealing with this new round of challenges to be flowing from Albany. I must admit I personally felt very defeated when I saw the details in the new Act. The fact is we will need to maintain our voice now more than ever. Not only are the roots of our crops here but so are those of our farms and families.  I personally understand if you have a feeling of frustration. I suggest you lick your wounds and prepare to meet the next round. To lie down now is to virtually turn the keys to your farm and the farms of the next generations over. I have to ask myself what would my ancestors have done? I know for a fact my parents would be sitting fire!

Pardon Me If I Do Not Say “Thank You”

I sit here awaiting the final version from the 2019 legislature on the Farm Workers Act. I think the weather outside my window mirrors my mood today. It is raining and the last thing any of us need today is more rain! It is not official but every indication is that we will see this Bill passed before they all return to their URBAN homes. We will be left once again to try to reinvent our operations if we wish to continue farming inside the borders of New York State. We have tried for years to educate the policy wizards about all that we are doing on our farms to enhance human resources. In most cases it far out distances most jobs in the non -agriculture world.

We will most likely see, beginning in 2020, overtime after 60 hours per week. Here I suppose I am expected to pause to say “thank you” because they really wanted us to be after 40 hours per week and 10 hours per day. After hundreds of hours patiently trying to educate the realities of this upon the Non-Agriculture economy we have pushed the beginning number to 60 hours.

Second, new positive is that the State will discontinue taxing H2A employers for unemployment insurance. This does zero for the largest sector of the New York State Agriculture dairy, as they are not legally allowed to be in the H2A program. The tax is unique to New York State as all other States do not levy it as they know there is zero opportunity for any worker to ever qualify. The Federal policy

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

does not charge this either. So in essence they have stopped charging us for a tax that I felt was illegal. Once again I should pause to say “thank you.”

Yes we will see the opportunity for farm employees to form a union if they so desire. There are yet miles of discussion needed here before we will truly understand the workings of this part of the Bill. We have stressed that we would be willing to see if we could find some mutual ground here. Our number one fear is a work stoppage where farms would be left with no employees to harvest perishable annual crops such as apples or dairy herds left with no one to milk them.

The final concern I will share with you is the new Work Labor Board that will be created out of this Bill. It will meet as early as March 1, 2020 to determine if the Farm Worker Bill is being fare to the employees it is designed to protect. They have the sole power to make changes in the Bill. They do not need to have legislative approval. So in essence if this small Board decides that on March 1, 2020 that 60 hours is not correct, they have the power to issue a new number. In theory they could then lower it to the desired 40 hour level. Yes it is time for me to pause and again express my feelings of gratitude. Thank You.

In short, we have lost much and have precious little to show on our side. We are an industry that is already being asked annually to raise the State minimum wage above most other States. Our workers are usually paid above this wage due to the unique skills they offer and the shortage of this employee pool. We cannot stop trying to influence sound economic policy on the new majority in New York Legislature. The gap between urban and rural unfortunately did not narrow after all of these debates. Unfortunately, if agriculture is to remain viable in New York our work is not over but has only just begun. I fear those that do not understand our world have a new thirst for more in the future. Pardon me if I do not say “thank you.”

Three Hearings Down—What Have We Learned?

As we draw closer to some decision by the New York State Legislature on what will be the details in the final version of the Farm Worker Labor Bill we should try to reflect on what we have seen.

To begin with, I was very proud of the quality of each and every testimony given by our industry. No two were alike. Each exposed a unique aspect of agriculture. Regardless if the testimony was from Morrisville or out on Long Island the message was consistent. Here are some of the conclusions offered by everyone.

To begin, this issue will impact all types of agriculture. Fruit, dairy vegetable or any other type will be impacted. Each stated the reality that they are Price Takers. Supply and demand will dictate the returns. We do not have the ability to increase our prices to offset increases in our individual operation. We either can or cannot succeed under the existing price structure. Unlike public government we cannot vote in an increase.

Every report stated a huge respect and dependency on their employees. They knew how dependent they were in having these people in their operation. Every effort was made to meet employee needs.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Almost every farm reported long repeated years of consistent service. Likewise, employees when asked reported a comfort in the relationship they had with their employers.

What struck me was the reality that we were being asked to support a legislative change to a system that was not broken or under stress. Usually new legislation is created to replace flawed conditions. Could each situation be improved? Yes, of course.  It appeared that when an issue did arise the employee and employers were able to discuss and make changes.

The two large issues seem to be collective bargaining and overtime. Farms in general were not really opposed to giving employees the right to collective bargaining so long as they were assured of a no strike clause. As one farmer stated we have been “collectively bargaining” for years with our employees on a farm by farm basis.

Employees that testified showed a keen understanding of the economics of the farms they were working on. They understood that the farms were offering all that was possible. They also seemed to understand that yes it would be nice to receive more money but the farm could not pay 50% more and not have any more work accomplished. They wanted to have the unlimited hours and the stability of being employed in one place. They did not wish to join so many other Americans that today are struggling to make ends meet with two jobs.  I wager many US citizens wish they could have greater than 39 hours of work each week like these farm employees.

In short, it really comes down to the fact that in production agriculture we work on often times impossible margins. Competition for market share too often leaves low returns. I think these hearings have actually exposed the true economic reality of agriculture. It is not that farms are willingly underpaying their help but that they simply are maxed out. So long as technology does not offer a cheaper way to bring the food to the market place we will see this struggle to satisfy everyone’s expectations.

Farming is certainly not for everyone. It is a demanding vocation with mixed returns. I feel it will always be dependent on world, national and local supply and demand. We are all very fortunate to have people who are willing to accept the challenge of agriculture and those who find value in working in it. Governments have the ability to make farms less profitable but they do not have the ability to guarantee economic success. While some may idealistically state this is solely a moral issue the reality of it is a simple question of basic economics.

 

Public Hearing on Farm Worker Fair Labor Practice Act Senate Bill 2837, SUNY Sullivan, Loch Sheldrake, NY

My name is Paul Baker. I grew up in Niagara County on a fruit and vegetable farm. I was the fifth generation to work on this farm. My Son Brett would follow me and be the last, sixth generation.  I have always lived with “farm workers.”  My father worked for over 25 years with the same migrant family from Florida. In the winter they harvested citrus in the Ocala area of Florida. When the citrus was harvested they traveled to our farm to harvest our crops. Each mid-November they returned to Florida to the citrus.

I grew up with these people. After work I played basketball with them in the barn. Once, when I was struggling with my high school French studies, my Dad’s foreman, a WWII vet, made me only converse with him in French. A language he learned while serving our country in the war. Later when the farms labor was from Jamaica my son would go each night to the Housing and enjoy music with the men, his friends.  I tell you this because in agriculture we have a very strong bond with our help. They really are an extended family. For 18 years we welcomed basically the same men to our farm to complete the growing cycle. The housing was always very close to our own. After my Father passed away my Mother was asked if she felt unsafe living so close to the camp? Her reply was” I feel much more at risk when they are not there.”

I tell you this multi-generational tale to try to illustrate the unique bond we have with our employees. To suggest that we would not have their best interest in mind is to not comprehend this bond. If we mistreated our employees, then why did they come back each year?

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

I have heard in the two previous hearings statements to the effect that farms could always pay more to their employees. This is not an economic issue but a moral one. Over the years we have had to find ways to offer increased wages. Cost of living continue to increase. History will support me when I tell you that agriculture has met this challenge through research  improvements in farming practices. Higher yielding orchards, improved root stocks, labor saving equipment have been ways we have been able to meet these increases in labor costs.

In principle I find many of the items in this bill misleading. To people who do not know our history you would be led to believe our employees do have basic protections such as workers compensation or unemployment. All of our housing is state and often federally inspected. Farm owners, for years, attend self-improvement seminars on compliance and ways to improve human resources.

I think it is time for both sides to try to find ways to continue this long positive history of farm employees in New York State. To do this, both sides must agree that at the conclusion of this effort we will have a strong base for agriculture in our State. Only then can both sides continue. Yes this is a moral issue. Unfortunately, even in houses of worship they find it necessary to pass the plate. Economics is a fact of life.

I think I speak for farms across this State. We are willing to discuss issues and find solutions to meet your request for the big questions of the day, those are at what level can we afford overtime and collective bargaining, so long as it has a no strike clause. I hear many want a mandatory day of rest included. I would offer that often this should be left to the wishes of the employees and the seasonal pressures of the moment.

I am here to tell you that the system is not broken. We do not have employees on strike or in the streets carrying protest banners. Can we improve conditions? Every human resource situation today can only reply, of course.