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Bill would hurt workers, farmers and state economy

Agriculture in New York State directly impacts the daily lives of all New Yorkers, upstate and downstate, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and contributing billions to our state economy. As we work toward economic recovery, the New York State Legislature has an obligation to protect farmers and every job associated with agriculture.

Yet, even with more than 1,500 dairy farms expected to close in the next year because low milk prices do not begin to cover the current cost of production, certain lawmakers, lobbyists and media outlets continue to push for misguided and irresponsible legislation that will put thousands more family farmers out of business and tangle countless others in costly and unnecessary bureaucracy. Despite its name, the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act harms farmer and farm worker alike.

To afford new requirements for overtime, benefits that do not apply to most farm workers, and new reporting requirements, farmers will scale back, change their business model to hire more workers at lower pay rates with fewer benefits or just go out of business.

Currently, every four jobs on a dairy farm support five more in the community. Unfortunately, the price paid to farmers for their milk is set by the USDA and even the USDA's own statistics show that this price covers little more than 50 percent of a farmer's costs. This legislation will be the last straw for thousands of farmers suffering through this crisis. When these farms close, jobs on the farm disappear, and along with them, jobs in the surrounding community will dry up as well.

While I recognize that proponents of this legislation believe they are standing up for farm workers, hundreds of farm workers have written me in opposition to this legislation. Support has been built among the non-farming public through sensationalist reports and largely unsubstantiated claims of widespread worker abuse. This strategy misrepresents New York's farm workers and vilifies our state's 36,000 farmers who pay up to $500 million in annual payroll.

Laws already exist making it a crime to exploit workers. Any employer that violates these laws should be prosecuted. For the New York Times or the New York Daily News editorial page to imply that this state's farmers are morally bankrupt and engaged in decades of legally sanctioned abuse distorts the truth and slanders our many responsible, hard-working farmers.

As the only active farmer serving in this Legislature, I oppose this legislation. The manner in which it has been promoted is an insult to the hard-working men and women small business owners in our agricultural community. Simply enforcing New York State's rigorous wage, housing, safety and worker abuse provisions, and punishing those who violate these laws, will protect farm families, farm workers and our rural communities.

Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Watertown, represents the 48th State Senate District.

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