The Wage Board kept us all hanging until the very last afternoon of the year. After several open comments from the public, they voted. Before voting the three-member Board held several discussions. These discussions were open to the public. Only the Board was able to discuss the subject.
On the final hour, a vote was taken. In essence, the verdict was that we needed at least one more year before we could feel confident on any lowering of the overtime threshold. Dennis Hughes, representing the AFL-CIO made a motion to submit new language. He wanted to lower the overtime by 2.5 hours each year for 8 years. This would move the overtime from a 60-hour level to 40 in 8 years. He felt that the farm workers have already been denied the 40-hour protection now for 80 years. He was terribly upset at the decision to wait one more year. He felt it was an unnecessary delay. His amendment was not accepted. This report will now be sent to the governor for his review.
In my opinion, we dodged a bullet here for one year. While I see it as a victory for agriculture, I feel the war is not over. In fact, this decision may actually spark new opposition from the non-agriculture population.
The Chair felt that the past year had placed unusual harm on all small business due to Covid-19. I really do not know if she would have supported the same verdict under a normal year.
David Fischer represented agriculture on our collective behalf. He is the President of New York State Farm Bureau. I do not want to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I think there are a few points left out.
The four main points I would hope we would build upon before next year are the following:
I do not think there was enough discussion as to what the farm workers wanted. How any change would impact their quality of life?
What would be the impact on future farmers? Would they feel confident or concerned about farming here in New York?
The negative impact it would have on farmland value and farm net worth.
The loss for non-farm workers who are dependent on farm products that create the need for their jobs.
For the next season we can operate as we did in 2020. I think we need to continue to weigh in on the impact any changes will have on the entire New York economy. As I said, yes, we won this battle, but the war is far from over.
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
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.