Think of the impact on small farms

The Daily Star on the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act

A state senator from Queens is leading an effort to bring the rights of farmworkers on par with other workers in the state.

Sen. Jessica Ramos has introduced the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would grant collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits and overtime pay to farmworkers.

“In New York, there is a Jim Crow-era law still on our books that denies human beings — mostly black and Latino, tax-paying New Yorkers — parity with nearly every other worker in this state,” Ramos, who heads the Senate Labor Committee, said in a statement.

On the face of it, we agree. Why shouldn’t the people who produce our food get the same benefits as other workers?

But the reality of the situation is much deeper. The impact these changes would have on small family farms could be devastating, if enacted on their own.

“It is imperative urban lawmakers understand rural issues and the reality that exists on farms for farmworkers before they vote on the legislation,” the Farm Bureau said in a statement.

The farm lobby opposes the proposed mandates, noting harvesting crops is time-sensitive work conducted amid unpredictable weather conditions. Some farmers have said they would have to consider cutting jobs or closing their operations should the mandates be imposed on them.

That is why it is important that all sides be heard.

Three hearings are scheduled on the bill — in Morrisville in Madison County, Loch Sheldrake in Sullivan County and in Smithtown on Long Island.

We agree with several Republican lawmakers who say more hearings are needed — especially in northern and western areas of the state.

“Considering the grave harm it could have on our state’s small family farms, hard-working farm employees and consumers, it’s unfathomable that entire geographic regions and sectors of agriculture are excluded from the discussion,” Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said.

Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, urged that hearings on the Ramos bill be conducted “all across the state.”

“This is an issue that could severely impact our agricultural industry, causing a ripple effect throughout the state’s economy,” Little said.

In a joint statement, Ramos and Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee who represents a portion of Delaware County, said they anticipate “a balanced and respectful discussion” and noted they will accept written testimony as well.

But it is sometimes hard to get the full message across in the written word.

Little, Ott and the Farm Bureau cite an analysis by Farm Credit East that suggests the legislation would reduce net farm income in New York by 23 percent.

That is something our struggling family farms can’t handle.

Chenango County Farm Bureau President Bradd Vickers said he recently traveled to Albany with Duane Martin, his counterpart at the Delaware County Farm Bureau, to lobby against the legislation.

“It’s not about what works down in the city,” he said. “It’s about what works for farmers and the ones doing the work.”

If the state enacts this legislation, something has to be done to help the small farms. And the people who can offer these suggestions are the farmers themselves. They know what works and what doesn’t.

Perhaps subsidies and tax credits can be altered to help farmers absorb the costs. Or the additional costs can be passed along to the consumers.

“There’s a disconnect between producers and consumers,” Vickers said. “The consumer, in general, has no idea what it takes to produce their food.”

Which is a shame. If people truly understood and appreciated what it takes to produce the food we eat, the farm owners and farmworkers could all get the pay and benefits they deserve.

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