While many individuals, businesses and organizations have weighed in on Governor Cuomo’s proposal to increase the minimum wage from $9 to $15, little attention has been paid to the “devastating effect” the increase will have on the state’s agricultural industry, as well as the negative impact it will have on the very people it is intended to help.
Local farmers and officials from the New York State and local farm bureaus stated their case during a press conference today at the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, describing the grim outlook for New York’s farms if the Governor’s proposal is approved. Also participating in the press conference was Ward Todd, President of the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce. Orange Chamber President Lynn Allen Cione said the chambers are working together to increase awareness of the drawbacks of the proposed minimum wage increase, particularly as it impacts agriculture, “a vital component of our economy.”
John Lupinski, President of the Orange County Farm Bureau, owns a farm that has been growing vegetables in Goshen for the past century. His wife, Diana, described “the effect that no one is talking about,” the negative impact the minimum wage will have on those individuals it purports to help. If the small business owner/farmer can’t afford to pay the $15 pay increase, said Lupinski, it will become necessary to lay off employees. “This,” she added, “will lead to unemployment for the worker and unemployment fees to the employer forced to lay off that individual.”
“The $15 minimum wage is one of the biggest issues facing small businesses and family farms in this state in years,” said Chris Kelder, Ulster County’s representative on the New York Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors. In Orange County alone, $155.9 million in economic activity is generated through agriculture every year. “It will affect all of our bottom lines,” said Kelder. In addition to farm workers being let go, “others may not be able to reinvest and grow like they had planned” and, he added, the increase will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Jennifer Crist Kohn, who handles the finances for the 600-acre Crist Bros. Orchards in Walden, said that “50% of the orchard’s revenue went to labor costs last year.” If the minimum wage is raised to $15, she said it will increase that cost by another 30%. Calling the situation “pretty devastating,” Kohn added that she’s “not really sure we could hang in there.”
Alisha Albinder, from Hudson River Fruit Distributors in Milton, whose family owns three farms in Ulster County and one in Dutchess County, noted that the increase to $15 would mean at least $1 million more in labor costs for her family’s operations. Statewide, Farm Credit East estimates that agricultural labor costs will increase between $387 million and $622 million by 2021. Albinder also noted a recent Farm Credit East study of the impact on the state’s 25 top farms should the increase be approved. The results, she said, revealed that “Two farms will break even and the rest will be in the red.”
It is estimated that 200,000 jobs will be lost statewide if the minimum wage is increased to $15 per hour. Automation has already begun to take hold in many industries such as restaurants and grocery stores due to high labor costs. Should the $15 minimum wage go into effect, automated jobs will become more and more the norm, said Brian Maher, Constituent Services Aide to Sen. Bill Larkin.
The Orange Chamber is resolute in providing the best support to members, advocating on behalf of business-friendly legislation. The Chamber Board recently passed a resolution opposing Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to increase the minimum wage.