Many of you are curious as to what we have been working on thus far in 2017. I wish to bring each of you up to speed and give you a hint as to what we are watching in the near future.
The BOD continues to feel that Albany has the greatest chance of impacting your business in 2017 and beyond. As a Board we traveled to Albany to discuss funding and potential labor implications with the elected. As far as funding, I feel we have proven our credibility and have received very positive feedback with the manner in which we requested and used the funds for applied apple research. In the past two years we have received one million dollars to be used for apple research. Yes, these are of course tax payer funds, but I think each of you should look at this as they are using YOUR tax dollars to help your business. They would use YOUR tax dollars on other NY projects if we did not request these funds. I am confident that in 2017 we will once again receive $500,000 to match your contributions to apple research.
Many of you also have berries on your operations and we have also been able to retain similar funding for berry research. I feel that, as a tax payer, you should have some voice in how they direct your tax dollars. The legislature is very impressed that in both cases the growers are not simply requesting funds but actually investing their own funds in the same programs. The matching funds model is very positive.
As soon as the funding/budget is set in Albany they will turn to policy issues. Two areas we are watching very closely are already introduced and have gathered sponsors. The first bill is Senate Bill 2721 introduced by Senators Alcantara (Democrat from Manhattan) and Senator Peralta (Democrat from Queens). In brief summary, this Bill is asking for collective bargaining rights for farm workers, a mandatory 24 hour day of rest, overtime after 8 hours each day and 40 hours each week. There are other terms but these are enough to raise concern. This Bill, if passed, would give farm workers more overtime rights than non-farm workers in NYS.
The second Bill is introduced by Senator Little (Republican from Plattsburgh). She is asking the State to stop charging H2A employers to pay unemployment insurance on these workers. It is impossible for any H2A worker to ever be eligible to collect. NYS is the only State to make this charge. The Bill is gaining some sponsors but needs more to gain a vote in the Senate. Many feel it will not get to a vote before the previously mentioned bill is discussed. Some may use this as a bargaining chip to help gain passage of the Farm Labor Bill.
I encourage each of you to weigh in on each of these Bills and voice your opinion to your elected representatives. Both Bills have been similarly introduced in the Assembly. It is in the Senate that we have an opportunity to block or support legislation.
Administrations seem to come and go here in DC. What remains is a failure to act on the entire Guest Worker reforms/Immigration issues. I have made repeated trips, thus far, to DC and will most likely be back again in 2017. Politically, it is generally agreed that if we are to see real change here it will be in 2017. Failure to move on this will cause great concern moving into the next Congressional election in two years.
As of the drafting of this report, the Secretary of Agriculture has yet to be confirmed. Until this post is settled, it holds an uncertain direction for the Department of Agriculture.
Day by day it seems the discussions around our farm labor issues remains uncertain. Most all Democrats are holding that there will be no deal for agriculture alone. If change is on the horizon it must embrace every industry. The House seems to be less set in the direction it will pursue. What they all say is that until Health Care and Tax reform are addressed there is not enough energy to address immigration reform. Congressman Goodlatte (Republican-Virginia) is working on a fix for agriculture. We will continue to monitor and watch the house to see which way they will move, if at all.