Migrant farm workers, for the first time, would receive overtime benefits under a proposed law which is gaining steam in the NY State Senate.
It’s known as the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, which would give farm workers in New York collective bargaining rights, overtime, and a day of rest each week. “These are basic human rights and these are things that have been afforded to the rest of the country, why not farm workers here in the state of New York,” said State Senator Timothy Kennedy of Buffalo, one of the bill’s many co-sponsors.
But it’s the overtime rule specifically that Dennis Brawdy says would put his vegetable farm in Eden out of business.”Our business collectively lost about $200,000 last year and we barely broke even the two years before that,” said dennis Brady of D&J Brawdy Farms in Eden, Amos Zittel and Sons. “If we were under the auspices of mandatory overtime, it would cost our business about $200,000 this year.”
By federal law, the H2A workers who come here from Mexico on a visa make a higher minimum wage, $13.25 an hour. The farm is also required to provide housing and travel expenses. Most of these workers hope to earn as much as they can in five months. When the weather is good, they work 12 hours or more per day.
If the farm attempted to keep all of its workers to an eight-hour work day, Israel Benitez, from Mexico, isn’t sure it would be worth spending his summers working in Western New York. “If that happens, probably we’re not coming here. We’re not coming back. So we try to find another place because you know if we work only forty ours, it’s not gonna be a lot of money for everything.”
Although it’s not even June yet, migrant workers were harvesting Romaine Lettuce on Thursday. Half of it will be sold locally to places like Tops and Wegmans. The other half will be sold in the New York City area, but Dennis Brawdy says farmers like him do not have the luxury of setting the wholesale price. “We would be very open to this idea if it was done at a national level, but to single us out in New York State and make us the sacrificial lamb when we can’t recoup those dollars doesn’t make any sense to me.”