Albany Times Union

Here’s how to improve conditions for farmworker­s

- By David Fisher ▶ David Fisher, a dairy farmer in St. Lawrence County, is president of the New York Farm Bureau.

It is important for farms to care for their team members. This goes a long way in attracting and keeping the good employees who sustain our food system. While there are great examples of farms with good housing, some farms need to do better, and we have made great strides in establishi­ng programs aimed at improving the experience and working conditions on farms. Lawmakers who are concerned about conditions for farmworker­s can help by supporting the following measures: ▪ The Agricultur­al Workforce Developmen­t Program at Cornell University offers training programs, human resource developmen­t and a specialist working with farms to evaluate and improve housing. But funding for that position is in jeopardy of being cut from the next state budget. To help the state’s farmworker­s, restoring that budget line is a good place to start.

▪ Building new worker housing can be a challenge, especially right now with inflationa­ry pressures and supply issues. That is why the New York Farm Bureau and other agricultur­al organizati­ons advocate for the state’s Farmworker Housing Revolving Loan Fund, which goes towards new housing and modernizin­g current residences. It has been a successful, widely used program, and Gov. Kathy Hochul nearly doubled its funding last year. We encourage the state to continue funding this program.

▪ Protecting workers is about more than just where they live. They need safe workplaces too. We encourage support for the New York Center for Agricultur­al Medicine and Health. Its innovative, bilingual safety programs have prevented injuries and saved countless lives through the years. But after 14 years of flat funding and continuall­y rising costs, the center’s work is in jeopardy. It needs an additional $1 million in state funding to carry on its mission.

▪ On the federal level, the New York Farm Bureau and others, including the United Farm Workers union, are advocating for reform of the federal agricultur­al guest worker program

known as H-2A visas. Opening the program up to year-round workers, including dairy farm employees, would set federal standards and inspection­s for year-round housing. It would also provide legal status for migrant workers wanting to work year-round in agricultur­e, bringing many out of the shadows. The guest worker visa system is far better for employees than the current system, which is why the largest farmworker­s union supports it. We ask Congress to make it happen.

It is important for workers to be engaged as well. While owners must provide safe housing that meets all zoning and code requiremen­ts, those houses are considered personal space, where tenants have a responsibi­lity to keep the lodgings clean and notify landlords of any problems. We certainly encourage farmers to have open and honest conversati­ons about housing conditions with their employees. Worker justice organizati­ons that claim to know of bad housing have a duty to report alleged violations. All farmworker­s should be afforded safe, sanitary housing, and every municipali­ty already has the authority to inspect it.

New York agricultur­e remains committed to continuous improvemen­t. Where there are problems, let’s work together to fix them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States