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May 21, 2013

Lawmakers: Farm bill has 'devastating' mandates

Two area state legislators interviewed Monday were opposed to a farm bill approved by the state Assembly on May 13 by a vote of 83-53.

The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices has been unsuccessfully proposed for years. Its provisions include the rights to collectively bargain, one day of rest per week, time-and-a-half pay for work beyond the traditional eight-hour day, unemployment insurance, disability insurance and workers’ compensation, according to a media release from state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Sen. James Seward, R- Milford, said the legislation is still in the Senate’s Agriculture Committee. It was defeated there in 2010, and Seward said he hoped this bill would meet the same fate.

Farmers are already subject to many regulations and inspections of their labor practices. This extra layer that would put them at a disadvantage because of factors in this industry that are not comparable to factory work. This includes the unpredictability of weather, long workdays during the season, and cows having to be milked on a regular schedule

Assemblymen Bill Magee, D-Nelson, and Cliff Crouch, R-Guilford, both voted against the legislation.

Magee, who is chairman of the Agriculture Committee said: “It’s something farmers don’t need, and farmworkers don’t want it.”

Most of the latter are seasonal, he said.

“They want to work all they can,” he said. “Why it’s being advocated by people who are not farmworkers, I don’t know. It would be devastating to the agriculture community.”

Crouch said in a media release that “it has become clear to me that the sponsors neither understand the relationship farmers have with their employees nor the negative repercussions this bill would have on our small family farms.”

Farms, over a certain threshold, already have to pay workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, he said. By lowering the threshold “it’s essentially targeting mom-and-pop farm operations,” Crouch said, adding that workers are fairly compensated for their work, given housing, food and hospitality during the growing and harvest seasons.

“Unionized farm employees may make sense for states that have a year-round growing season, but not in New York,” Crouch said.

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