A group of Republican state senators want additional hearings to discuss legislation that would affect farms across New York.
State Sens. Jessica Ramos and Jen Metzger, chairs of the Senate Labor and Agriculture committees, announced in March that there would be three hearings on the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. The hearings will be held in Morrisville, Madison County, the Hudson Valley and on Long Island.
Republican lawmakers, all of whom represent upstate districts, don't believe that's an adequate number of hearings to gather feedback on the legislation. They also don't feel the hearing schedule allows for farmers in the North Country and western New York, among other regions, to share their perspective.
State Sen. Fred Akshar, an Endwell Republican, said there are more farms per capita in his district than any other state Senate district in New York.
"Before passing legislation that could drastically change the lives of thousands of upstate farmers and their families, the new Senate (Democratic) leadership should at the very least agree to go out and meet with the people their proposals would affect," Akshar said.
Akshar and 10 other Republican senators, including state Sens. Bob Antonacci and Pam Helming, signed a letter to Metzger, D-Rosendale, and Ramos, D-Queens, urging them to hold more hearings.
Ramos is the sponsor of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. The bill would grant farm laborers certain rights, including a day off each week, overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week, collective bargaining and the ability to unionize.
The legislation has been panned by the New York Farm Bureau, an advocacy group representing farmers across the state. The farm bureau, citing analysis conducted by Farm Credit East, projected that labor costs would increase by nearly $300 million if the overtime pay mandate is adopted.
As the bill's sponsor, Ramos has said she is open to feedback. However, she believes the legislation is needed to ensure New York recognizes "the dignity of work."
"In New York, 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 the state," Ramos said in a statement last month.
For now, the hearings will commence in late April and conclude in early May. The first hearing will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at SUNY Morrisville. From 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, the second hearing will be held at the Suffolk County Legislature on Long Island.
The final hearing is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday, May 2, at SUNY Sullivan.
The hearings are open to the public.