Palmesano: Farm wage reforms ‘unworkable now’

Staff reports
The Chronicle Express

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) joined his Republican colleagues in sending a letter to Gov. Cuomo, Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets Richard Ball, and members of the Farm Laborers Wage Board urging them not to impose any new regulations or costly mandates on family farms struggling to survive after the disastrous economic impact of COVID-19.

N.Y. Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

This spring, the board was scheduled to hold public hearings on decreasing the overtime threshold to under 60 hours a week for farm workers. It’s a disastrous proposal that would heap millions and millions of dollars of new costs on family farms that are already struggling to compete with operations in neighboring states and Canada due to New York state’s stifling labor regulations and unfavorable business climate.

“We respectfully request that the Farm Laborers Wage Board wait for the results of the data to be compiled in the 2021 and 2022 seasons before making any recommendations to lower the overtime threshold below 60 hours a week. This will give the Board a more broad data sample based on a longer duration of time, which can be utilized to appropriately determine the impacts on the farm community,” wrote the legislators in the letter.

“This was a bad idea before COVID-19, and it’s totally unworkable now,” said Palmesano. “My colleagues and I are calling on the Wage Board to pump the breaks and resist imposing any more job-killing regulations while our farm families are hurting and fighting for survival.”

When the governor and Democrat majorities in the Legislature passed punitive labor mandates and imposed costly, new regulations on family farms in 2019, the industry was already in trouble. In the five previous years, the state lost 20% of its dairy farms while net farm income plummeted 50%. Nationally, labor costs were about 36% of net farm income. In New York state, they were about 63%.

“New York farmers were already at a competitive disadvantage,” said Palmesano.

“Democrats saw an industry that was struggling to hold on and absolutely hammered them with new regulations and mandates. If you double down on that and go even farther during an economic and public health crisis, you’re going to inflict even further damage to the number one economic industry in Upstate New York. We absolutely can’t let that happen. That’s the message my colleagues and I delivered to the administration, and that’s the message we’ll continue to highlight,” said Palmesano.