Court Upholds New Protections for N.Y. Farmers

On Thursday, the New York State Vegetable Growers and the Northeast Dairy Producers Association lost a legal battle in the Western District of New York against the State of New York. The plaintiffs alleged that the newly passed state law, the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, “violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and also was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.” The plaintiffs requested the state law be enjoined from further enforcement.

The FLFLPA extended wage and unionizing power to agricultural workers, such as farm laborers and their supervisors. Under the FLFLPA, covered workers must receive one day off per week and not work more than sixty hours without overtime pay of “at least one and one-half times the laborer’s regular rate of pay.” As it concerns collective bargaining, the state law allows workers to join unions, assist labor organizations, or otherwise self-organize with regards to labor policies provided that the workers do not strike or otherwise engage in actions resulting in a “concerted stoppage of work or slowdown.”

The Act also prevents “supervisory employees” or employers from engaging in any actions that interfere with the aforementioned protections above, while leaving it to open for state agencies to decide whether supervisory employees may also collectively bargain in conjunction with those agricultural workers. For the plaintiffs, this unanswered delegated area left them with choosing between permitting supervisors to bargain collectively and protecting farmworkers from undue influence from said supervisors. Given this open area, the plaintiffs averred that the FLFLPA cannot be implemented since the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment mandates that “individuals should receive fair notice or warning when the state has prohibited specific behavior or acts.”

The court disagreed with the constitutional challenge and denied the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction. As the area of labor law is highly regulated, the court ruled that it would be imprudent of them to resolve this issue in their courts prior to agency action. As such, the court concluded, the constitutional challenges commenced by the plaintiffs were not yet ripe for judicial review.

On the question of whether NLRA preempts the FLFLPA, the court also disagreed with the plaintiffs’ assertions. The plaintiffs proffered that the NLRA, which does not require employers to treat supervisors as employees and therefore allow said supervisors to have federally protected unionizing approval, explicitly prohibited the FLFLPA from then doing so. The court ruled that the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the law lacked merit. Under the NLRA, the court held, the restriction on collective bargaining does not cover “farm-laborer employees…a class which necessarily includes supervisory farm-laborer employees.” Additionally, the court concluded, “the Supreme Court has explicitly explained that the mere existence of the NLRA does not indicate a congressional intent to usurp the entire field of labor-management relations.”