Friday, February 26, 2016

NOFA-NY Board Wants Farmers and Farm Workers to Get at Least $15 an Hour

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

From the board of directors of NOFA-NY

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York board has released a statement regarding the unbalanced food price structure that affects farmer’s costs and what they can pay their workers.

“As of Dec. 30, the New York state minimum wage is $9 an hour.
For employees of fast-food chains, the minimum wage rose to $10.50 in New York City and $9.75 in the rest of the state, and the base hourly rate for restaurant servers and other tipped workers increased to $7.50.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, the $1.60 of 1968 would be $10.96 today.

Like minimum wage, the prices paid to farmers for their products have not kept up with inflation.

The number of farms and the acres in farmland in New York state continue a long decline. In 2002, there were 37,255 farms; in 2012 the number had dropped to 35,537. With the price of milk $8 lower than a year ago, more New York state dairies will go out of business. 

In January, the price paid to the farmer for winter squash was about 19 cents a pound and the retail price was $1.29 a pound. That is the type of unfair price structure that keeps farms from financial viability. It is time to shift more of the dollars paid for food back to farmers and farm workers.

Given our policymakers’ commitment to cheap food, achieving fair wages for all the people who work to bring food to our tables is inherently challenging.

When NOFA-NY surveys our farmer members, many make statements like this: “I certainly believe farmworkers should receive a fair wage, and I conduct my business in that way.”

Fairness is an important value for New York’s organic farmers, yet the wages farmers pay their workers range from only $9 to $20 an hour. Most of the farmers are not earning much more, and farmers in the first 10 years of their farming careers often pay their workers more per hour than they earn themselves.

There is plenty of money in the U.S. food system. According to their own public financial postings, for the first half of fiscal 2015, net sales for General Mills totaled $5.3 billion. 

Its competitors, Campbell Soup, ConAgra Foods and Mead Johnson Nutrition Co. reported revenues of $2.2 billion, $2.7 billion and $978 million, respectively, for their last reported quarter.

NOFA-NY believes that this has to change.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will not happen overnight. It should be phased in over a number of years as in Los Angeles, where the increases begin with a wage of $10.50 in July 2016, followed by annual increases to $12, $13.25, $14.25 and then $15. Small businesses and nonprofits are allowed an extra year to comply.

NOFA-NY’s board is in favor of raising the minimum wage, but we want to see prices to family-scale farms rise too since few farms are paying $15 an hour either to the farmers themselves or to their workers.

The prices farmers receive must go up. The prices paid to farmers for farm products must be a fair share of the final consumer price, covering the farm’s full costs of production, including living wages for farmers and all farm workers.

It is time to reallocate the food dollar to give a fair share to farmers and to raise the minimum wage for food workers. NOFA-NY calls upon all who want locally grown food to join us in the challenging effort to make our food local, and also organic and fair.”

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