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Let's keep those quasi-slaves in place

by Ron Holdraker
February 26, 2022

Imagine no steady job. Your social class is relegated to moving season to season, state to state, following the growing seasons.

Fruits and vegetables in Florida, moving to Georgia for the peach season, Pennsylvania for corn, before heading to New York for apples and assorted vegetables. After that heading west to Michigan and numerous other states.

Sometimes you travel alone, but very often your entire family, kids in tow, follow you in the growing seasons.

Habitat dwellings are sometimes unsure and schooling for the children varies from state to state, county to county.

Yes, wages, with demand, have increased over the decades, but still the roaming existence, hours and conditions are something most Americans would never endure.

Weather can either be the friend, or enemy, money earned comes and goes. You often pay taxes on money earned, but rarely get any long term benefits from deductions. Social Security...not a chance. True hope is a warm bed and decent porta-potties on location. 

It is a way of life that has persisted for generations and farmers are grateful when you arrive. Otherwise, crops fail to hit market and no one wins.

Now, imagine a state where things are changing. Instead of 60 hours before you can collect overtime, some in the state want change.

 The New York State board voted to recommend that a 40-hour overtime rule for farm workers be phased in over the next 10 years. If the recommendation is approved by the state labor commissioner, New York would join California and Washington State in phasing in an overtime threshold common in other industries.

Society has progressed past pure slavery and attempts to change farm workers laws to catch up with reality. New York State has realized this must change (gasp).

Farm workers in New York didn’t qualify for overtime pay at all until 2020, when the state changed the law to mandate extra pay for workers who exceeded 60 hours a week.

“We need a better quality of life,” veteran dairy worker Lazaro Alvarez said this week. He is among those who say the change is long overdue for an estimated 55,000 agricultural workers if New York passes the law farmers will have to pay more.  That means the public will have to pay more for their produce.

That’s not fair, according to State Republicans. Alarmed farmers warn overtime hours would endanger marginal farms, hobble others and actually reduce workers’ earnings if farmers cap hours to manage expenses.

This would possibly put New York farms, competing with other state produce producers in implausible market positions. This, even though, the proposed law would be introduced slowly over a decade.

Local Assemblyman, Brian Manktelow R,C,I-Lyons) recently stood with his colleagues in the Assembly Republican Conference, members of the New York State Farm Bureau and farmers from across New York to fight back against a  proposal to require farm worker overtime at 40 hours a week.

Manketlow, a lifelong farmer, is warning that this regulation would devastate the already stressed New York farming community and, if it is accepted, would spell the end of family farms as we know them across the state.”

“This proposal is deadly,” Manktelow said. “It’s that simple. Mother Nature doesn’t care about a 60-hour work week. We farm when we can farm and we work when we can work. No farmer wants this change, and most farm workers don’t want this change (?). It’s foolhardy, dangerous and would devastate family farms that are already struggling. Misguided downstate legislators simply cannot be allowed to destabilize the biggest industry in the state. The adage holds true— no farms, no food.”

Of course, this was the same logic the South proposed before, during and after the Civil War. Whoa, please note the world of slavery ended, but farming went on!

In a time where wages and work conditions are advancing, Republicans want the same old/same old conditions to endure for migrant workers...forever.

It just seems we are better than that, but perhaps not.

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