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
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.
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
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.”