Agricultural workers in most states are exempt from some labor law provisions that apply to employees in most other workplaces. In New York State agricultural labor advocates and farmers have battled politically over this issue for more than four decades. Two of the most contentious issues are collective bargaining and overtime pay. Currently laws for most other workers grant rights to employees who engage in union organizing activities. In addition, most employers are required to pay an overtime rate of time and one half for hours worked over 40 per week. In New York, labor advocates would like to see both of these exemptions for agriculture removed. Eleven states in the United States have laws that protect agricultural workers who wish to engage in collective bargaining and union organizing activities. In addition, four states have overtime pay provisions for agricultural workers. Introduced in the New York State Legislature in 2009, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act would have provided farmworkers with collective bargaining rights and overtime pay. It also contained other provisions viewed as having less impact on the agricultural industry. The proposal reignited a contentious debate and political standoff between farm business interests and the state’s labor advocates. The bill passed the Assembly on June 8, 2009. Leaders in the Senate had difficulty getting the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Finally, as part of the 2010 state budget battle, Senator Pedro Espada, Senate Majority Leader, was successful in bringing about a vote. The legislation was defeated by a margin of three votes. Seldom has farmworker rights legislation gotten so close to passing both houses of the New York State Legislature with the prospect the Governor would sign it. The future prospects for overtime pay and collective bargaining rights for New York’s agricultural workers will continue to be dependent upon which political party controls the State Senate. The November 2010 elections resulted in the Republican Party recapturing the Senate majority making it unlikely that legislation similar to the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act will be enacted in the near future. Both sides are extremely well organized and it appears possible this standoff could continue for many more years


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