Well-heeled social advocates for the poor, and the politicians they elect, are increasingly disconnected from what really drives American capitalism, generates revenue for taxes and creates jobs – money or to be more specific, profit margins. And it threatens the very livelihood of farmers, landowners and even their employees.
In part one, I offered a national case in point. Here, we’ll explore the same contentious, control-at-any-cost mentality working against agriculture in New York State.
NY’s unfair Farm Labor Fair Practices Act
In brief, the legislation would require farm employers to provide at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, force an eight-hour workday for laborers and mandate a time-and-a-half overtime rate. And it would require unemployment insurance, plus grant workers collective bargaining rights on larger farms.
Champions of the cause say farm labor reform has few protections from exploitation and is long overdue. “Denial of basic rights and protections to farm workers plays a major role in accounting for this discrepancy," contends Jordan Wells, executive director of the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign.
The legislation “will provide the legal remedy to injustice,” claims Kerry Kennedy, Founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.
"The time has come for farm workers to enjoy the same rights, protections and benefits as all other workers in this state, adds NYS AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes. “If we’re to consider ourselves a progressive enlightened society, we must raise the standard of living, and quality of life of those who have the least."
Now, consider the economic realities of farming as outlined by State Senator Darrel Aubertine: “Most New York’s farms are family owned and operated without enough labor to do all the work. About 9,000 farms hire farm laborers, and in many cases they become like family. Pay typically ranges from $9 to $11 per hour.
“Housing, food, and in some cases, healthcare are often also provided. Overall, New York farmers operate with more comprehensive worker protections than most states and the rest of the world.”
New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton contends the legislation would drive up costs and labor regulations to rank New York second only to California. Even with a much a larger ag industry, better growing degree days, and significantly larger farms, agriculture is diminishing in the Golden State.
"In New York, you'll no longer see the roadside stands. You won't see fruits and vegetables growing here. And, it would force out smaller farms."
So what’s more fair: Addressing labor abuses of a few via existing laws or driving agriculture out of the food-producing business? Common sense would suggest that the answer is an easy one. So where’s the common sense, and why is New York wasting time and money on this issue?
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