By Elizabeth Henderson

After twenty years of intense campaigning by farm worker advocates, the NYS Legislature passed S.6578 Ramos / A.8419 Nolan, the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act (in previous years known as the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act) and on June 18, 2019 Governor Cuomo quickly signed it into law. The passage of the bill was made possible by the new Democratic control of the NYS Senate as well as the Assembly which has passed similar bills year after year. The NY Farm Bureau vociferously opposed the bill, declaiming that the requirement for time and half overtime pay would wreck farming in the state. Farmworkers hailed the passage as a victory for basic labor rights and fairness. As organic farmers, we salute the justice of finally ending the exclusion of farmworkers from labor protections and acknowledge their freedom of association.  We appreciate the legislative process, including lengthy public hearings where many farmers and farmworkers were able to express their views, and the resulting compromises, while far from perfect, are at least steps in the right direction. Until farmers can afford to pay living wages and full health and retirement benefits to farm workers (and to themselves), we will not have a farming system that is truly worth sustaining.

Assemblywoman Catharine Nolan, one of the prime sponsors of the legislation, described the negotiations and compromises that went into shaping the final language:

“We tried to thread the needle in a fair way. We are listening to the farmers in our state. The original legislation had a 40-hour overtime trigger. We agreed, in the interest of moving forward and the unique challenges the farm industry faces, to go to a 60 hour trigger. We also made a change in the law so that people paying into unemployment for H-2A employees get a reduction in their unemployment. We put in a day of rest but that day of rest has to be agreed to and counts a day of rain as a day of rest. We also modified their ability to strike. That’s a very serious compromise in my part but we did agree, and the Farm Bureau, again, has been a part of the discussion, agreed to a no-lockout hardship type of process. Each step of the way we tried to match a compromise with the Farm laborers with a compromise for farmers and match them in tandem.”

The bill takes effect January 1, 2020, except for the housing requirement which takes effect a year later. Continue reading “The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act – What It Means for Organic Farms”