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Migrant workers on turek Farm

The New York State Assembly voted 84-51 to pass the Farmworkers Fair labor Practices Act after Governor Andrew Cuomo produced a compromise bill last weekend that addressed some Farm Bureau concerns.  The compromise bill requires farmers to pay overtime to laborers who work more than 60 hours per week, and sets a goal of reducing that number to 40 hours.  the bill also makes farm workers eligible for workers' compensation benefits, and unemployment insurance.  The bill includes a 'no-strike' provision.  Small farms are exempted from the requirements.

"With the passage of this legislation, we will help ensure every farmworker receives the overtime pay and fair working conditions they deserve," Cuomo said Wednesday.  :The constitutional principles of equality, fairness and due process should apply to all of us. I am proud that, with the help of my daughters' years-long advocacy on this critical issue, we got it done."

Not everyone was satisfied with the bill.  On Wednesday New York State Senator Pam Helming (representing Seneca and Wayne Counties, parts of Cayuga and Ontario Counties, and the towns of Lansing and Webster) said that while she commends the need to balance the needs of farmers and employees, the bill falls short.  She said the bill should be named the 'Farmworkers Flee New York Act' because it is not realistic for small and large upstate farms.

"Farmers and their valued workers spoke up that this legislation will wilt their business," Helming said. "It will not create a harvest for upstate workers or farms. It will have a devastating impact on the industry as a whole, especially our small family operations and their hardworking employees. This is a direct assault on upstate New York's top job creator. And so this is not a compromise at all. When Upstate speaks and downstate lawmakers fail to listen and legislate anyway to claim victory, it not a good day for New York."

Helming said downstate legislators are responsible for the loss of a huge number of upstate jobs.

"This is anything but fair or good for Upstate," she said. "We have already watched downstate politicians kill tens of thousands of potential jobs. Upstate lawmakers are a different crop. We like jobs and we believe that this legislation is bad. It is the nail in the coffin for Upstate's economy."

But Cuomo said his 'reformed farmworkers bill of rights will finally grant basic rights to farm employees and "protect them from abusive and exploitive working conditions".

"My administration has proudly fought for working men and women across the board, from raising the minimum wage to strengthening worker protections in nail salons and the home healthcare industry," he said. "We believe all workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect - period."

With 40 Democrats to 23 Republicans in the State Senate, the bill is likely to pass.  Cuomo said he will sign it, if passed.

Congressman Tom Reed toak an opportunity to blast another Cuomo, the Green Light Act, which allows illegal immigrants to apply for drivers licenses.Reed said the government needs to revise the immigration system to make it easier for workers to come to America legally.  But he also said Cuomo needs to "take care of legal citizens, not illegal residents".

"First and foremost, this is not fair for the men and women who immigrated here legally or hardworking New York taxpayers," Reed said. "This bill is also dangerous. How are DMV employees supposed to verify if a foreign document is valid? What if these people have committed serious driving infractions, such as drunk driving, in foreign country? How are we supposed to run a background check on this?"

Helming weighed in as well. She said the Green Light Act has no benefits for people who live in the United States legally, and noted that two thirds of US states do not allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.

"We should be listening to our county clerks, sheriffs, and district attorneys," she said. "America is a nation of immigrants, and we embrace this history. However, we are also a nation of laws, and this is a matter of both fairness and public safety. This bill is yet another New York City-driven progressive overreach that defies common sense. Siena College has done several polls on this issue, and voters have been clear that they do not support this proposal. Additionally, I conducted my annual legislative survey earlier this year, and more than 80 percent of those who responded opposed the plan. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. In fact, 19 Assembly Democrats voted against the bill because they too understand that we should not be rewarding those who choose to break the immigration laws of our county. The passage of this measure in the Senate today is just one more example of politics trampling common sense."

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