Gov’t can help workers

The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has been promoting an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Businesses have been objecting to this increase because it would reduce or eliminate their profits.

This is the usual approach, wanting wages to remain low, even to the point of workers being unable to feed, clothe and house their families.

Farmers have gotten some publicity, also objecting to an increase.

Businesses dealing with the public can increase their prices. Farmers can’t, but farmers have a large farm organization, called the Farm Bureau, that can lobby for better prices. Did they?

My wife, Pat, and I boarded a bus sponsored by the Farm Bureau, which we were told would go to Washington, D.C., to lobby for farmers. When we got there, we were told to lobby for a bill that would lower the support price for milk. This was based on belief that if the price were set low enough, some producers would go out of business, causing a shortage, and the price would rise, giving the remaining farmers a better income.

Every farmer on our bus said that if the price were lowered, they would increase their production to maintain cash flow and there would be no shortage. Therefore, no increase in price. The lower support price would be permanent. The representative of American Farm Bureau Federation, supposedly our employee, overruled us, saying if we couldn’t lobby for a lower price, to keep our mouths shut while he did it. That is what we did.

There were legislative assistants to our elected representatives at our meeting. They asked if we, individually, would answer questions. Our AFBF man told them we could not answer their question, and if we wanted to talk to our elected representatives we would have to make another trip on our own. The Farm Bureau was keeping its members and the government uninformed.

I reported to our Fulton County Farm Bureau Board of Directors what had happened, but few outside of Fulton County knew what happened in Washington.

I was later elected Fulton County Farm Bureau president and attended two state annual meetings. At those meetings, I found the people there had been indoctrinated to believe that farm pricing for milk was a free market process, despite the fact they knew that the milk price was set by the government. Farmers generally do not know that the price of milk is based on the price of cheese at the Chicago Board of Trade. The price, therefore, can be manipulated by the cheese dealers by affecting the base price.

The farm leaders of various counties and states are uninformed about the economics of their business. Farmers and members of Farm Bureau depend on the leadership to do the right thing.

In our experience lobbying, the Farm Bureau worked to lower farmers’ prices.

So what to do about the $15-an-hour proposal? Consider that working people need to be housed, fed and clothed, and make the decision on that basis. If we want milk to drink or burgers to eat or farm machinery, we are going to have to pay for these things. If people aren’t paid for their services, we aren’t going to get them. The government can raise the support price. Even the milk dealers will pay more for milk if they need it.

John Bender lives in Johnstown.