Interview with 100 Jamaicans

I am again in the middle of harvest. This usually gives me the opportunity to talk to growers, packers, and storage operators. I also have the opportunity to talk one on one with Jamaican employees here on H2A contracts. I want to do two things here share with you my collective observations of these men and second perhaps be a voice for them in this life changing discussion surrounding the Wage Board.

First, I am very impressed with the accurate knowledge these men have of the Overtime legislation. You may notice here that I do not refer to this as a collective bargaining/union discussion. To a man they reject the concept of unions and dues.

It is almost unanimous that these men wish to continue working here in New York State.  It has become an extremely critical way for them to support their families. The greatest share of these men have found annual employment with a singular employer. They refer to the farm they work on as their own. Many know the geography of these orchards as well or better than their employers. They understand the ebbs and flow of the industry. They know the pressure that frost, hail, drought, and market pricing places have on their employer as well as offering them a living wage.

To this end they know that the economics of these farms has its economic limits. They understand that it would be wonderful to receive overtime after 40 hours. However, they know that if this were to happen, they would be extremely limited in their hours. Their season is short. To not have the opportunity to work at least 60 hours would mean they would take a huge seasonal reduction in pay. They do not wish to seek new employment but feel it would be necessary if they were to earn the desired income, they need to support their families.

To this reality, they say they can function with the rules as they are presently in place. Any reduction in hours would force the majority to look to new out of State employment. They understand the present legislation and strongly hope that there are no new standards. They are preparing a self-written letter stating this opinion. They have asked me to give them reading materials to help prepare this letter. They will discuss it and plan to sign on each man. We will send this to the Wage Board as their voice on the topic. This is especially important that they have the opportunity to offer their opinion on this ruling.

I am extremely impressed with the level of knowledge this group has as to the importance of the Wage Board. Make no mistake they feel extremely nervous as to the decision coming from this body.

I wanted to share with each of you the feelings of these workers. So often we selfishly only state how it will impact our lives. Make no mistake about it, this decision impacts families here is New York State as well as in Jamaica.

Paul Baker

Executive Director

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!