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Melrose Farm Protest

Picketers protest living conditions for workers at Melrose Farm in Owasco in August 2018.

Republican legislators want more hearings on a farm labor bill. The Democratic lawmakers who will lead the hearings are focused on having productive meetings to discuss the measure. 

State Sens. Jen Metzger and Jessica Ramos issued a joint statement Wednesday reiterating their plan to hold three hearings on the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. Their comments are a response to a group of GOP senators, including state Sens. Bob Antonacci and Pam Helming, who called for additional hearings in different parts of the state. 

Metzger, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, will lead hearings in Morrisville, Madison County, and Suffolk County later this month. 

A hearing in the Hudson Valley is planned for early May. 

If enacted, the legislation would grant farmworkers collective bargaining rights, the ability to unionize, at least one day off each week and overtime pay if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours in a week. 

Ramos is the Senate sponsor of the bill. 

"We will be discussing the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act in three major farming regions across the state, where farmers and farmworkers live," Metzger, D-Rosendale, and Ramos, D-Queens, said. "We will have the opportunity to hear from a variety of voices in the agricultural community as we evaluate this legislation, both at the hearings and via written testimony as is our due diligence. We expect a balanced and respectful discussion." 

Metzger and Ramos noted that they are the first chairs of their respective committees to hold hearings on the legislation in nearly 10 years. They're also the first chairs to hold hearings outside of the state capital. 

"We respectfully remind our Republican colleagues that they failed to hold any hearings on this topic for the 10 years during which they had the opportunity to do so," the senators said. 

When Republicans controlled the state Senate, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act didn't advance out of committee. Ramos has said that will change now that she leads the Senate Labor Committee. 

There have been concerns raised about the potential impact of the legislation. The New York Farm Bureau cited a Farm Credit East that found the overtime pay mandate would increase labor costs for farms by nearly $300 million. 

The group worries that some farms may cease operations due to the added labor expenses. 

Proponents of the bill say it's necessary because of poor working conditions on farms. Some workers have complained about wage theft and a lack of overtime pay. 

The Senate could vote on the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act before the end of the legislative session in June. In addition to Ramos, there are 31 cosponsors. Bills need at least 32 votes for passage in the 63-seat chamber. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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