November 3, 2020 Election Day

The fast-approaching elections will be upon us before we know it. As a farmer they may come upon you faster than other people. Once harvest begins few of you will have time to devote to anything but harvest and family.  It is with this in mind that I am addressing this message. The great thing about living in a democracy is that right or wrong those who gather the most votes win the right to direct public policy. The flip side of this is that not always does the candidate with the most votes have the ability to make wise decisions.

The last 18 months have been incredibly stressful for all of us in agriculture here in New York State. In my opinion, the passage of the Farm Labor Act last year will have the greatest impact on our state’s agriculture going forward. At the last moment before the Act was voted upon there was a provision for a Wage Board to be put into place.  This Wage Board would have sole power to determine the direction this Act would have moving forward. A series of public hearings were crafted to report the public’s opinion of this Act. There has been only one so far. The Covid Virus has derailed previous well intended plans. There are rumors that we will have hearings held online before the end of the calendar year. The fact that we may have something with such deep consequences as these hearings not held in a public forum is very disturbing.

I recently made several calls around the State to growers and those running for office. I was trying to

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

see if I might encourage some face to face meetings with the farms and those running for office. The idea in theory was good. However, both sides were reluctant to hold face to face meetings due to the Covid Virus. End result was a failure to trade opinions between the parties. To me this is a huge failure. How can those running for office understand those they will be representing if they cannot have a dialogue? The pressure to have public officials elected that understand the current issues and are also in touch is critical.

The pandemic has caused deep economic gaps in our economy. The lack of commerce will be felt in less sales tax revenue. Legislators will be scrambling to fill this short fall. I also fear that legislators may have become a bit too used to enacting policy without going down the traditional channels. It is imperative, as we recover from this issue, that we work together to heal our economy. This can only happen if we have trust and open discussion.

I understand your time is limited. I am asking you to make every effort to research the candidates to elect the ones you feel will listen and enact sound policy. I am not advocating for any one candidate. I am not advocating for any one party. I am advocating we return this November the absolute best representatives that truly have your best interest in mind.

The winds of change are all around us. Some changes are healthy. I am suggesting that sound change comes with a price. That price is the time you take to research and vote for the best people to monitor the changes that will come our way. Without your efforts, you may be very alarmed at what changes we may harvest. That would be the highest price to pay if we failed to vote and vote responsibly.

So, What is Happening as Far as Overtime?

The wheels of Democracy are moving. Exactly where they will stop is the question. As a grower you must be filled with more questions than answers on this legislative activity. I will try to bring you up to speed. I must tell you that at this time it is totally up in the air as to which way it will end.

To begin, we have two basically identical bills in play. Senate Bill 2877 sponsored by Senator Ramos from the Queens. She is a freshman Democrat. The key issues to her bill are the following; Overtime after 8 hours each day and overtime after 40 hours in a week; Collective bargaining; Mandatory day of rest each week. The Assembly has a very similar Bill 2750 carried by Assemblywoman Nolan, Democrat, from Queens. In the next couple months the plan is to have several hearings across the State to review and discuss these bills. At this time the specifics of when and where these events will take place are not set.

In an effort to be objective I think the authors of these bills most likely have good intensions. The issue is they have very incomplete information from which to draw their conclusions. It is our intention that we will be able to bring both sides to a clear understanding of the facts. I will tell you it is currently very difficult as there has been very little effort thus far to understand the conditions on a modern farm in New York State by the two authors of these Bills.

According to a 2019 report from Farm Credit East, mandatory overtime would increase labor costs on farms by almost $300 million and decrease net farm income by almost 25%. Net farm income is down 50% from a few years ago and farmers have little to no control over the prices they receive for the products they offer for market.

Farm workers have repeatedly stressed to farmers that the number of hours available to work weigh

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

heavily in their decision to work on a particular farm.  If a farm must reduce hours to fall under the overtime threshold, it would most likely force existing workers to look elsewhere for a job making a tight labor market even more stressed.

Collective bargaining has long been a grave concern for farms. The reality is that this is not such a threat so long as we can have a “No Strike” clause added. Currently there is none in either Bill. The mandatory day of rest needs to be amended to read “voluntary” day of rest. During peak harvest times neither farmers nor farm workers wish to be forced to sit.

What can you do? As the announcements become known, you need to voice your individual story as to how this Bill would impact your farm. If possible, have your employees offer their voice as to how they feel about the impact of this Bill on their lives. If you can take the time to offer testimony, do so. If not, submit written accounts of this Bill on your future. If the opportunity presents itself, be present to show solidarity to this issue. I cannot stress enough the best time to deal with a Bill is before it gets passed and signed into law. We need to stop or dramatically force changes to this Bill in the Senate and Assembly. Once it passes both chambers most feel there is little doubt the Governor will sign it.

Everyone wishes we were not faced with this challenge. The 8 hour per day and 40 hour per week version will, if passed, dramatically alter New York agriculture. We simply will not be able to meet national prices. As much as you may not like it, some form of overtime will very likely be in play. We need to get these numbers at a level we can still hire labor and remain competitive in the market place.

The details of this bill will have enormous implications on New York State agriculture and the up-state economy. It will serve no one to complain later if we do not make every effort to meet the challenges of this bill head on.