Metzger will hold hearing in Sullivan County on farm workers’ rights bill

State Sen. Jen Metzger and a fellow senator have scheduled a public hearing in Sullivan County and two elsewhere in the state on a long-standing proposal to expand the labor rights of farm workers, a bill that farmers have steadfastly opposed as a threat to their businesses.

“It’s very important that we hear from farmers and farm workers as we weigh this legislation and make sure that we are addressing the concerns and needs of all of those who will be affected,” Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat who took office in January, said in a press release on Friday. “We must take into careful consideration the realities of small and family-owned farm operations – the vast majority of farms in New York – and the long-term viability of agriculture in the state.”

Metzger is chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and represents Orange County’s Black Dirt vegetable-growing region and other farming areas in the 42nd Senate District, which takes in all of Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware.

Also presiding over the upcoming hearings will be Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat who is sponsoring the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act and is chairwoman of the Senate Labor Committee. She demanded reforms in the press release, saying “there is a Jim Crow-era law still on our books that denies human beings – mostly black and Latino taxpaying New Yorkers – parity with nearly every other worker in this state.”

The bill’s provisions include allowing farm workers to unionize; mandating overtime pay after eight hours of work per day or 40 weekly hours; and offering unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.

The New York Farm Bureau praised Metzger for holding the hearings, saying she “has been working with us since early February to ensure that hearings will take place in key agricultural communities across the state before this bill goes to the Senate floor.” Bureau President David Fisher said in a separate release that the bureau supported some parts of the bill, including a required day of rest for farm workers, but called mandatory overtime “a difficult financial burden to bear.”

“Farms compete in a marketplace and can’t just pass along price increases to recoup their losses, especially in this difficult farm economy,” Fisher said. “The farm labor legislation as written will force farms out of business hurting the very workers the legislation is looking to assist.”

Orange County lawmakers are poised to pass a resolution on Friday declaring their opposition to the bill.

The Sullivan County hearing will take place from 1-5 p.m. on May 2 at SUNY Sullivan, 112 College Road in Loch Sheldrake. Anyone who wants to attend or testify should register at metzger@nysenate.gov or by calling 845-344-3311.

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