Elected leaders in Seneca County were critical of a bill that supporters say would improve conditions for farmworkers across New York State if passed.

Seneca County relies heavily on agriculture as an economic driver. 

The bill, if signed into law, would grant collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation, and unemployment benefits to farmworkers. 

Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Shipley (R-Waterloo) says the bill is a major threat to the agriculture industry. “If passed into state law it would jeopardize the future success of farming...not only here in Seneca County, but throughout New York State,” Shipley said during his remarks at the Board’s May 14 meeting.

“The proposed legislation is camouflaged as ‘promoting collective bargaining’ for farm laborers in New York State - to establish an eight-hour work day and require ‘overtime pay’ for hours exceeding a forty hour work week,” Shipley continued. “In reality, this ill-conceived law would place excessive burdens on an already fragile agriculture industry that struggles competing in a changing global marketplace, especially now.” 

The New York Civil Liberties Union supports the bill noting that 80,000 to 100,000 migrant, seasonal, and dairy workers labor on New York farms under ‘grueling’ conditions. 

“New York ranks among the top agricultural states in the country; it is the second largest producer of apples, snap beans and maple syrup, and is now the third largest dairy producer in the nation,” the Union states in their support of the bill. “And yet, for those who do the work of harvesting vegetables, picking apples and grapes, and feeding, cleaning, and milking herds of dairy cows, the pay is low, conditions are deplorable, and the work is grueling, dangerous, and at times life-threatening. But unlike other hourly workers, farmworkers are not entitled to fundamental labor protections.”

Shipley and opponents of the law say it simply adds more cost and burden to farms. 

“The cumulative effect of the farm labor proposal to our 30,0000 plus New York State Farm owners can only result in dramatically higher farm labor costs and loss of product sales to cheaper, ‘out of state’ producers,” he continued. “In the end, passing this legislation will hurt employers, consumers, and the nearly 200,000 agriculture employees across New York State.”

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) says the costs brought on by the bill are staggering; and would result in significant burden to those operating farms.

“The costs to farms brought on by this bill are staggering, and will ultimately be passed down to consumers. New York’s farms have already been suppressed by the weight of one of the most restrictive tax and regulatory burdens in the nation. Passing this bill is akin to breaking the camel’s back with an anvil,” Kolb added.

Kolb was critical of the state lawmakers who were proposing the legislation. 

Earlier this month Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Senator Tom O’Mara requested public hearings to address the issues inside the bill, as proposed. 

Palmesano, who serves Seneca County, said moving forward without public input would be ‘blatant neglect’. “I have heard from many farmers and those in the agricultural community who are deeply concerned about the significant negative consequences this bill will have on their livelihood and the future of their farming operations. I am disappointed at both the proposal and the process thus far, and I sincerely hope Assembly Majority leadership heeds the calls of Upstate farmers who feel unheard,” Palmesano added. 

Opponents of the legislation point to highly-changeable farm schedules, which are often dictated by weather; commodity prices, which are already low; the risk of workers’ strike having a significant impact on the small business or farm’s ability to produce if that happened; and the necessity of increased automation as reasons for the bill to be struck down. 

Shipley says it comes down to Albany working for the future of New York State. He called on leaders to focus on ending the perception that New York State is “unfriendly” to businesses and developers.

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