NY farmers sue to block law that grants workers right to unionize, overtime pay

NY farmers sue to block law that grants workers right to unionize, overtime pay
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Two groups of farmers are suing to block a law set to go into effect Wednesday that would give workers the right to unionize and receive overtime pay.

The New York State Vegetable Growers Association and Northeast Dairy Producers Association filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Buffalo Monday to temporarily delay the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act from becoming effective this week, according to New York news outlets.

The farmers are seeking clarification for the planned enforcement of the legislation, which gives farmworkers the right to unionize, receive overtime pay and take at least one day off per week, according to Syracuse.com.

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Currently, federal law forbids farm owners, family members and supervisors from discouraging union activity or assisting in the formation of a union, but the new state law would give them the right to participate in union activities. 

Brian Reeves, president of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, said that the group has attempted to negotiate with state officials for months to reconcile the “ambiguity and unfairness” of the legislation.

“Today, we are simply seeking a temporary pause to the implementation of this law to avoid harm to our farms and our employees, while the governor and legislature correct the ambiguities,” Reeves said in a statement obtained by Syracuse.com.

John Dickinson, who represents the Northeast Dairy Producers, said farmers intend to follow the law but need clarification in order to do so.

"The lack of guidance the dairy community is receiving is causing unnecessary stress on farms, agri-businesses, and families across the state," he said in a statement obtained by local NPR affiliate WBFO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the bill into law in July. The legislation also gives farm workers compensation benefits and unemployment insurance and mandates farmers have better working conditions. 

Jill Aurora, the director of communications for the New York state Labor Department, said it does not comment on pending litigation, but "we can say that this administration feels very strongly that the constitutional principles of equity, fairness and due process should apply to everyone."

—Updated at 1:41 p.m.