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Deal Reached for NY Farmworkers to Join a Union

The agreement comes after decades of organizing

Posted on
Jun 17, 2019

After decades of organizing, farmworkers in New York appear to have won the right to join a union. This comes after a 12 hour deal between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers just days before the end of the session. Find out more about the deal below from

Ending what proponents have called a remnant of the Jim Crow era, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers reached an agreement over the weekend on a farm labor bill that grants farmworkers overtime pay, a rest day and the right to unionize. 

The bill language provided Monday by the governor's office reveals some significant changes to the original text of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. The legislation would require farms to pay laborers overtime after 60 hours worked in a week. The previous proposal would mandate overtime for working more than eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. 

The agreement reached between Cuomo and state legislative leaders also gives farmworkers the right to unionize. But there would be limitations. There is a no-strike clause preventing farm laborers from a work stoppage. Employers would be prohibited from locking out workers if there is a dispute. 

Farmworkers would get at least 24 consecutive hours of rest if the bill is enacted. The farm owner's family members would be exempt from the day off requirement. If workers receive a rest day due to weather or crop conditions, then that would meet the requirements of the legislation. 

Laborers could opt to work on their scheduled day of rest, but must be paid overtime for their shift. 

The legislation also establishes a three-member wage board consisting of an AFL-CIO representative, a New York Farm Bureau representative and a member, who will serve as chair of the board, selected by the labor commissioner. 

The wage board's mission would be to examine overtime for farm laborers and make recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers. The board would hold its first meeting no later than March 1, 2020. A final report must be submitted by the end of 2020. 

The original farm labor rights proposal included a collective bargaining provision. A state appellate court ruled in May that a ban on collective bargaining rights for farmworkers is unconstitutional. 

An agreement on the farm labor bill would conclude a two-decade push to extend overtime pay, a day off and other labor rights to farmworkers. The measure has stalled in the past because of opposition from the Republican-led state Senate. 

This year, freshman state Sen. Jessica Ramos is the lead sponsor of the bill in the chamber. She acknowledged the legislation would benefit farmworkers, but also believes the changes would be important for farmers. 


"If we're going to continue  to grow our agriculture in this state, we must ensure that those who help create the wealth, at the very least, have basic rights," she told The Citizen in February. 

Ramos, D-Queens, visited farms across the state and led three public hearings on the bill. One of the hearings was held at SUNY Morrisville in Madison County. At that hearing, central New York farmers reiterated their opposition to the bill and said it would have an adverse impact on their businesses. 

The New York Farm Bureau repeatedly cited a Farm Credit East analysis that found the overtime pay mandate would cost farms nearly $300 million. The additional costs included minimum wage hikes that are being phased in over the next two years. 

The union-aligned Fiscal Policy Institute released a report that concluded the overtime pay mandate would lead to increased costs for farmers, but it would be "manageable." The institute's assessment found farm laborers would receive as much as $95 in additional weekly wages because of the overtime pay requirement. 

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