Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision not to defend a state law prohibiting farmworkers from unionizing could devastate New York's agricultural industry, Republican lawmakers said Friday.
While the New York Constitution guarantees workers the right to unionize, state statute excludes the New York's 60,000 agricultural workers. Earlier this week Cuomo announced that his administration would not seek to defend that law in the face of a legal challenge by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Allowing farmworkers to unionize could force some family farms to shut down, according to several Republican members of the state Assembly who criticized Cuomo's decision on Friday. Opponents of allowing farmworkers to unionize say it could lead to higher labor costs, strikes and even lost harvests or delays in getting farm products to market.
"Leave it to New York City politicians to get it all wrong about agriculture and family farmers," said Assemblyman Marc Butler, a Herkimer County Republican.
Several Republican lawmakers signed onto a statement denouncing Cuomo's move. Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, R-Binghamton and a former dairy farmer, said organized labor is behind the push to allow farmworkers to organize, calling it a "money grab."
"With already tremendous expenses — including grain, feed, seed, equipment, workers' compensation, unemployment benefits, property taxes, energy expenses and transportation — compounded with the recent minimum wage increase — how are family farmers expected to survive?" he said.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of worker Crispin Hernandez, who said he was fired from his job at an upstate dairy farm after discussing working conditions with other employees after his shift. Hernandez, speaking to reporters in Albany on Tuesday, said he worked 12-hour shifts six days a week and was forced to go without medical care after a cow stepped on his hand. He said another worker was struck by an employer.
"We want to be able to improve our working conditions without fear or intimidation," he said in Spanish, through an English translator.
Cuomo — as well as Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — said they agree with the aim of the lawsuit. Cuomo called the loophole prohibiting farmworkers from organizing "unacceptable."
A bill that would eliminate the exception for farmworkers is pending before the Legislature.