Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill Wednesday that extends a number of labor rights to farmworkers for the first time in New York state.
When the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act takes effect Jan. 1, farmworkers can collectively organize and bargain, although not to strike, earn overtime pay at one and a half times their normal rate after 60 hours of work at and have a full day off per week.
The legislation also ensures houses for farmworkers meet sanitary codes, requires workers to report injuries, allows them to receive paid family leave and disability benefits, extends provisions of unemployment insurance law to include farmworkers and eliminates the payroll threshold that requires employers to obtain workers’ compensation coverage, according to a news release.
“The farmworkers bill is not just a great achievement in terms of the effect on the human condition. It’s also a milestone in the crusade for social justice,” Gov. Cuomo said, “100,000 farmworkers will have better lives. Their families will have better lives. They will finally, finally, have the same protections that other workers have had for 80 years.”
Advocates have argued that state labor law that, until now, excluded farmworkers is rooted in historic Jim Crow policies. The law was passed in 1937 with the intention of importing federal Depression-era protections for workers into state law, but in doing so also imported a “carve-out” for farmworkers, the majority of whom at the time were black.
Opponents of the new bill, including north country senators Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and assemblymen Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, and Ken Blankenbush, R-Black River, say it raises farmers’ costs and threatens their economic viability.
“In the end, our reasonable requests were cast aside, even though there was support for a moderated bill from legislators on both sides of the aisle,” said Farm Bureau President David M. Fisher in a statement. “While the final legislation signed by the governor is certainly better than the original version of the bill, it will still lead to significant financial challenges for farmers and the continued erosion of our rural communities.”