Legislative Column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,C,I-Canandaigua)

As the cornerstone of many local economies, agriculture is a major employer and a treasured part of our heritage here in the Finger Lakes. In a column earlier this year, I highlighted the good news about local agriculture, including the growing yogurt businesses and wine industry – two powerful examples of family farmers and New York agribusinesses capitalizing on our state’s strong agricultural legacy to create quality jobs.

Unfortunately, in this week’s column, I have some bad news – ‘The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act’ (A.1792-A) was passed in the Assembly this week. My Assembly Minority colleagues and I voted ‘no’ and Assemblyman William Magee, the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, passionately argued against this bill because it would add a litany of new labor mandates, regulatory requirements, and financial burdens for farmers throughout New York State.

THE HIGH COST OF FARMING IN NEW YORK STATE

New York farmers already operate in a business climate that ranks among the worst in the country.  To run a farm in New York State, farming families pay labor costs that are the second-highest in the nation and 56 percent more than the national average.  Nearly two-thirds of our farms operate at a loss.  The bottom line – placing additional costs and regulatory burdens on an industry that can ill afford it compounds the competitive disadvantage our agricultural community already faces.

SO-CALLED FARMWORKERS BILL WOULD INCREASE THE COST OF FARMING IN NEW YORK AND REDUCE OPPORTUNITIES FOR FARMWORKERS

If passed into law, The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act would be a damaging blow for New York’s farming community – individuals and families who work night and day to produce the goods upon which millions of Americans rely.  Agriculture carries a proud legacy here in the Finger Lakes, and its success is critical to our state’s prosperity.  This legislation threatens the ability of our farmers to continue that tradition and further impedes their ability to keep their family farms in business.

This bill completely ignores the fact that numerous state and federal requirements already exist to ensure farm workers receive employee protections, fair wages and that businesses adhere to proper workplace standards.  It also fails to acknowledge that working on a farm is a unique profession, with work schedules that are distinct from nearly every other industry or business.

IT IS TIME FOR DOWNSTATE POLITICIANS TO END THE PRACTICE OF ‘NEW YORK CITY KNOWS BEST’ AND ACTUALLY VISIT A WORKING FAMILY FARM

New York State’s strength is in our diversity, and the main advantage of diversity is the opportunity to sit down with someone from a different background and learn about their point of view. The owners of many of our family-run farms are simply too busy working on their land to travel to Albany to meet with the politicians from New York City – but the special interests are not.  I invite my downstate Assembly colleagues, especially the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan from Queens, to visit a Finger Lakes farm and speak with our family farmers and real farm workers who return to our local farms year after year.

ALBANY MUST FOCUS ON THE REAL GOAL – CREATING QUALITY JOBS FOR FINGER LAKES FAMILIES

Community leaders and agricultural experts have put a lot of effort into making the future Finger Lakes Viticulture Center in Geneva a reality. This powerful initiative will create new jobs and keep the Finger Lakes on the cutting edge of agricultural research and development. If The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act becomes law, the next generation of farmers may not be able to take advantage of this world-class education center because New York will have made it economically impossible to make a living on a family farm.

I agree with the New York Farm Bureau that farming in New York State is tough work.  Downstate politicians and the special interests are trying to make it even tougher. Albany must keep its eyes on the real goal – improving the economy in Upstate New York and increasing the number of quality jobs in our communities. Imposing factory-style labor mandates on family farms is not the answer.

What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, e-mail me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.