ITHACA, NY (WSKG) — In New York, only one group can not get overtime pay: farmworkers. They also do not have the right to collectively bargain. The legislature is considering changing the law to guarantee those rights. The first of three public hearings about the changes was in Morrisville on Thursday.
Judy Whittaker runs a dairy farm with her family in Broome County. She said they cannot afford to pay overtime.
“With dairy being in a downturn now for five years we’re losing money every day,” Whittaker said. “This additional burden would possibly put us out of business. We can’t pay for more from a losing business.”
Also at the hearings were farmworkers who attended with their employers. They all oppose the proposed changes. Crispin Hernandez is not one of them.
Hernandez used to work on a North Country dairy farm. He and others workers tried to organize and were fired. Now he works for a workers’ rights group. He is also suing New York State to give farmworkers the right to collectively bargain.
Beyond the public hearings, legislators might visit farms around the state. Mary Jo Dudley hopes they do. She runs the Cornell Farmworker Program.
“It would be good to be able to speak with farmworkers in a more candid setting,” she said. “It’s very intimidating for someone to speak in that public setting and speak their mind.”
Other large agricultural states like California and Minnesota have already changed their law to guarantee all workers the same rights.