ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – During a public hearing today in Morrisville, state legislators will hear from critics of proposed changes to state labor laws that affect farmworkers. Two parts of the bill attracting criticism — farmers must pay overtime and farm workers would get the right to collective bargaining.
Mary Jo Dudley, who’s with the Cornell Farmworker Program, regularly works with farmers and farm workers around the state. In part, Dudley said the debate about the labor laws is a moral one.
“Farm workers are excluded from labor laws that protect all other workers,” said Dudley. “So, do we want to level the playing field and ensure that those protections are in place?”
When it comes to overtime pay, she said, the real challenge is the perpetual labor shortage in agriculture. New York relies on immigrant workers because farmers can’t find enough local workers to satisfy demand.
“If a worker who has, right now, a 60 hour work week,” she said, “and the farmer decides to reduce their hours to 40 hours and if they have 10 workers they have to find additional workers. And so it’s a challenge. But, the question is, who should pay the price?”
Dudley said many farmers already do many of the things the law would require. But, one provision that worries farmers is collective bargaining. Jeff Williams directs public policy for the New York Farm Bureau.
“That,” he said, “makes farmers concerned when it comes to people, workers striking at the worst possible time, when cows need to be milked or at harvest or planting time when you really only have a one, two day window.”
The public hearing will be in Morrisville and live streamed.