The Business Council opposes this legislation which would amend the Labor and Workers' Compensation Laws to eliminate several current statutory exemptions for agricultural workers.
Agriculture remains a large and vital part of New York's overall economy. Unlike other critical sectors, agricultural employment is primarily seasonal and already burdened by many layers of regulation and enforcement.
Agriculture production is not exempt from global competitiveness issues. Even so, this legislation would increase business and consumer costs at a time when production costs are increasing beyond the control of either agri-business or the consumer.
It is important to recognize the regulatory requirements already imposed on the agricultural sector. For example, twenty-eight states, including New York, require workers' compensation for farm employees. Virtually all farms that do not rely solely on family labor are required to provide workers' compensation.
Further, New York is the only state with a separate state sanitary code for migrant and seasonal housing that is stricter than the federal code.
By bringing agricultural workers within the eligibility for unemployment insurance and disability benefits, this legislation would significantly increase costs of agricultural employers and consumers.
On the other hand, only three states require a different threshold for unemployment insurance eligibility than the federal for agricultural employment; two of those states – California and Texas – have much longer growing seasons that does New York, and so a different eligibility threshold may make public policy sense.
The legislation does not address the underlying issues at the core of agricultural competitiveness issues in New York State: labor supply and demand, the cost of energy, and the costs associated with the lack of meaningful tort reform. Rather the legislation seeks to add to labor supply burdens without providing statutory solutions to relieve any of the pressures which make agricultural production and products less competitive than other states or countries.
This legislation does not recognize the importance of the labor supply and access issues already facing New York agricultural employers and would further complicate an already strained system.
The Business Council believes it is the wrong time to redefine the terms and conditions of agricultural employment in New York State. Seasonal employment needs to be understood in a broader context, and statutory reform should reflect a broader state vision for ensuring that agriculture remains a vital part of New York's economy.