N.Y. Ag Groups Outraged Over Labor Bills

Legislation would cripple food production in Empire State.

Published on: Jan 18, 2010
Officials of numerous New York agricultural organizations blasted state house and senate bills mandating more stringent overtime regulations, unemployment insurance for seasonal workers, and collective bargaining.

"Producing food is a basic need, and unless the Legislature seriously rethinks this legislation it will jeopardize our farmers' ability to produce local food for local people," says New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton. "This proposal forces mandates on our family farms that will put New York at an extreme competitive disadvantage."

Ironically, the legislation calls for $200 million in mandates on farmers that aren't imposed on all workers advocating for the bill - domestic workers, taxi drivers, religious non-profit employees and legislative staff, among others.  Non-profit workers and legislative staff are exempt from overtime laws.

New York State Vegetable Growers Association President Larry Eckhardt says, "We're regulated in regards to labor way more than any other industry. Present laws already requires more paperwork than any other industry. And we're required to provide way more amenities as part of the contracts such as housing and transportation. How many other industries are required to house their workers free of charge?

"Dairy farmers are already losing money and working long hours for next to nothing. This labor bill would pay workers more than the farm owners, and force many farmers to quit the dairy industry," adds Doug DiMento of Agri-Mark.

Robert Smith, Senior Vice President for Farm Credit East, knows the costs. "For every $100 of production sold, New York farmers paid $13.82 to farm workers compared to the U.S. average of $8.88. “New York agriculture is already spending about 56% more on labor than the average for the country.”

Farm Credit made the same comparison for the top 10 largest farm states which account for approximately 54% of total US agricultural production. Only California was higher than New York. The other top 10 states ranged from $2.66 to $9.09 per $100 of agricultural production.