January 18, 2018


Farm Bureau supports NYCLU lawsuit dismissal


By Brian Quinn


ALBANY — The dismissal this week of a challenge to the state law that keeps farmworkers from unionizing was welcomed by the New York Farm Bureau and a state senator.

State Supreme Court Judge Richard J. McNally Jr. Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that could have dramatically affected farm wages in the state by granting those workers collective bargaining rights.

The Farm Bureau said Tuesday that McNally’s ruling granted its request to dismiss the challenge, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). The judge said such changes to state labor law should emanate from the Legislature.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in 2016, said it planned to appeal the decision. The group argued that farmworkers deserve the same labor rights as other workers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had decided his administration would not seek to defend the law in the face of the lawsuit by the NYCLU.

The Farm Bureau Tuesday called the lawsuit “baseless.”

“The court’s decision is a major victory for New York’s family farms. New York Farm Bureau argued in State Supreme Court in Albany last July that our system of government requires that the Legislature change state law, not the courts. The court agreed,” the Farm Bureau stated on its website.

The Farm Bureau noted McNally’s ruling that “… the plaintiffs and the state have not demonstrated that the Labor Law statues are racially discriminatory or that farmworkers are a suspect class entitled to constitutional protections.”

The Farm Bureau said it has long opposed farmworker collective bargaining for one simple reason.

“Farms do not have a standard eight-hour workday. Last year’s growing season demonstrated that,” the organization said. “Weeks of heavy rains followed by shorter bouts of sunshine forced farmers and their employees to squeeze in weeks of work into just a few dry days. Work never stops inside the barn. For instance, cows need to be fed and milked multiple times every day.

“A farmworker strike or confining work agreements could jeopardize a crop or the health of an animal,” the Farm Bureau said. “Everyone who works in farming understands this, including farmworkers. Farmers have great respect for the people who they employ, and this court victory does not diminish that. They value their employees’ commitment, work ethic, and the partnership it takes to get the job done on the farm.”

Bureau President David Fisher said, “New York Farm Bureau has represented farmers for more than a century and today’s ruling will go down as another defining moment in Farm Bureau’s long history. New York Farm Bureau will always stand up for our members, either in court or at the Capitol, to ensure that their rights are protected and their voices are heard.”

Genesee County Farm Bureau President Christian Yunker said the ruling was good news. He said it was an issue that affects the whole agriculture community combined, noting farming is not a normal business as far as hours worked.

“To continue to put regulatory pressure on any farms is not good for the farms or the community,” Yunker said. “You have to have flexibility. There’s seasonal hours. It’s good in the long run for employees as well. It’s going to keep farm workers employed in the long run.”

If the court had ruled in favor of the NYCLU, Yunker said, it would have affected local farms.

“It would have taken some time, but it would have had an impact,” he said.

Tuesday’s ruling on the May 2016 lawsuit also drew a statement from State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer.

“The NYCLU’s attempt to bypass the State Legislature and push increased regulations on our agriculture industry has failed. These burdensome regulations would have had a devastating impact on our family farms,” he said.

“I applaud the judge’s decision, and I commend the New York Farm Bureau for defending our 35,000 farms all across our state. As New York state’s No. 1 industry, agriculture is the backbone of our rural communities, and this is a major victory for our family farms.”