Assembly OKs Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act

An updated Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has been passed after by the state Assembly.

During floor votes on Tuesday, Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voted against the legislation. State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted no and explained his concerns on the Assembly floor.

“They’re really concerned about the 60 hour wage cap before it kicks into overtime,” Goodell said. “What we do is say you get 60 hours before overtime is triggered but only until the wage board makes up its mind whether that number should be reduced because it makes clear that the wage board cannot increase that thresshold, only reduce it. … The Labor Department is headed by a former union organizer. To tell farmers this will be even and fair and unbiased is just baloney. Nationally, less than 1% of farmworkers are unionized. If less than 1% of farmworkers are unionized, why pretend this is a fair and equal wage board when we give them two thirds of the vote? Because this is not set up in a fair and balanced way, I will be voting no.”

The bill is different from the legislation that has been hotly debated in the legislature and by the public over the past several months. The version of the legislation filed in January started time-and-a-half overtime at 40 hours each week while the June 18 version starts overtime at 60 hours a week.

“We tried to thread the needle in a fair way,” Assemblywoman Catharine Nolan, R-Manhattan and sponsor of the legislation, said in response to a question from a Republican Assembly member. “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 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.”

Farm workers would be allowed to unionize and a card check system implemented that makes it easier for farm workers to unionize. Both strikes by employees and lockouts by farm owners are prohibited.

Farm laborers would also be given the option of taking a day off each week, though they would be allowed to work the whole week if they’re paid time-and-a-half for the seventh day. Paid family leave is also extended to agricultural employees. Farms would no longer have to pay unemployment benefits for workers in the country on guest visas. Farm workers would be eligible for state disability coverage and makes farm workers subject to the state’s minimum wage, including regulations pertaining to waiting time and call-in pay rates.

The legislation also includes the convening of a binding arbitration panel if unionized farm workers and farm owners can’t agree on a contract. The process would work much like the process for municipal employees, with the arbitration panel expected to hold hearings, require evidence both sides’ arguments, and factor in a comparison of wages, hours and working conditions with employees performing similar work. There is language, though it isn’t defined, saying the arbitrator’s decision must be based on both the interests of workers and the farm’s ability to pay the arbitration award. The impact on the food supply and commodity pricing is also to be considered.

The bill establishes a farm laborers’ wage board made up of one member of the Farm Bureau, a member of the AFL-CIO and one person appointed by the state labor commissioner. The group will hold its first meeting by March 2020 and make a report to the governor and state Legislature as to overtime work for farm laborers. That recommendation is due by Dec. 31, 2020. Overtime rates recommended will not be in excess of 60 hours and the wage board would be required to consider ways to limit overtime hours and provide for a series of successively lower overtime work hours and phase-in dates as part of its determinations.

According to the text of the legislation, the wage board would consider overtime rates in similar industries in New York state. Nothing contained in the wage board’s report or recommendations is allowed to diminish or limit any rights, protections, benefits or entitlements available to any farm laborer.