Food-world opposition to Governor Cuomo’s proposed $15 wage at restaurant chains has grown to include farmers who claim they’d end up collateral damage of the increase. The owners of several farms statewide, including the NYC Greenmarket regular Migliorelli, tell the AP they struggle to pay workers high wages already, and they stress they won’t have the financial resources to compete against jobs at, say, McDonald’s if they suddenly start at $15 an hour for work that doesn’t involve strenuous outdoor labor. “If someone can go fry french fries for eight hours, why would they come pick apples, and for longer hours?” asks Sarah Dressel, of family-run Dressel Farms. She believes the wage hike would “completely decimate any profits that we have.”
The AP says that, per Department of Agriculture data, farm workers have made 50 percent more than minimum wage on average for the past ten years. But that gap already appears to be closing: Last year, they made $12.46 an hour, but the state’s minimum wage climbed to $9 in January. Analysts predict Cuomo’s proposal would cost New York farm owners another $387 million to $622 million in labor per year.
Cuomo’s people argue the first priority is still fixing the state’s problem of hardworking people “living in poverty,” but a legal adviser to the governor tells the AP they’re happy to look at addressing the industry’s concerns. Cuomo’s office maintains the hardship on businesses would be manageable because the increase is structured to be extremely gradual (wages statewide won’t reach $15 until 2021).
Some farm owners disagree, however, and are apparently already cutting their losses. Ken Migliorelli, whose family’s fruits and vegetables have been a citywide staple since 1933, says they’ve decided to replant some of their fields with grains, a product that makes them less money than produce but requires way less labor. He says Cuomo’s $15 wage would mean “a lot of strain,” so he’s just following his business sense and finding a way to not be “in a position where I need so much labor.”