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Cuomo signs new farm bill into law far away from any farms

ALBANY – Signaling the controversy surrounding the bill, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo chose a Manhattan office building – instead of a farm upstate or on Long Island – to sign a law Wednesday providing expansive new employment rights for farm workers.

The bill has been hailed by unions and Democrats in the Legislature for giving farm workers certain rights that have been long provided to employees in other sectors of the economy.

But critics say the measure ignores the realities of how farms operate in the different seasons and that more farms will be forced to close. The federal government earlier this year said that New York State lost 2,100 farms between 2012 and 2017.

Cuomo, though, called the new law “a milestone in the crusade for social justice."

"As a practical matter, 100,000 farm workers 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,'' Cuomo added.

The law provides for a 60-hour work week for farm workers before overtime has to be paid; an earlier version put the level at 40 hours, which farmers said would have destroyed farm operations during busy harvest seasons.

The bill provides new rights to farm workers to join unions, gives at least 24 hours of rest each week, makes unemployment insurance law apply to farm laborers and makes it easier for farm workers to obtain workers compensation coverage.

Cuomo signed the bill in the newsroom of the New York Daily News, which is located in lower Manhattan. The paper’s editorial board over the years pushed for passage of the measures. Kerry Kennedy, the governor's ex-wife who has promoted farm worker rights issues, attended the bill signing gathering.

Grow NY Farms, an umbrella group of farmers and food producers, said the new law will be bad for both farms and workers. "This measure does not create a path that will assure an economically viable New York agriculture industry, and the four fixable flaws within this bill will likely drive more family-owned farms out of the state or out of business. Worst of all, farm workers will feel the impacts the most because their work hours will be restricted and their income reduced,'' the group said today.

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