By Mary Alameda
Concerned that a big hike in the minimum wage would put many of them out of business, New York Farm Bureau members last year rallied to “Keep the Barn Doors Open.”
In 2016, lawmakers in Albany were considering gradually increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2021. Compared to the current $9.00 an hour, this eventual $6.00 increase would affect thousands of farmers in the state who had employees.
NYFB heard the outcry from members , who saw what would ultimately be a $500 million tax increase for agriculture as a dire warning. Steve Ammerman, NYFB manager of public affairs, asked, “What can we do that can make a big splash?”
A strategic “media blitz” was the answer. The NYFB planned 15 press conferences across the state. Many of the locations were strategically chosen to maximize the impact of Farm Bureau’s message on lawmakers.
The NYFB supplied their members with tool kits, which included a planning checklist, timeline, sample media advisories, press release templates and talking points.
One of the tools allowed farmers to plug in their numbers and calculate the effects of a $15.00 minimum wage on their farm. The results were farm-shattering. Between the different commodities across New York, the projected additional cost to farmers varied anywhere from $10,000 to over $1 million.
With the Albany Legislature’s April 1 budget deadline looming, New York Farm Bureau members on March 21, 2016, hosted their 15 media events, resulting in 222 media mentions. Equally as significant, the events compelled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make his first remarks on the proposed wage increase, which he supported. After hearing directly from New York farmers that the minimum wage hike would prevent them from competing with farmers in others states who have much lower labor and production costs, Cuomo acknowledged the “unique circumstances of agriculture.”
Lawmakers ultimately went ahead with the wage hike, $15 in New York City and Long Island and $12.50 for upstate, but agriculture was the only industry to receive a tax credit to help offset the costs. While $600 per employee in the final year of the wage roll out isn’t much, farmers feel that it is a start.
According to Ammerman, member involvement and leadership were key to this effort. “The beauty of this project was that we helped, but ultimately we couldn’t have done it without what they [members] were doing,” he said
“Keep the Barn Doors Open” garnered NYFB a New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The award honors state Farm Bureaus with the most innovative new programs. The award is presented annually at the AFBF Annual Convention.
Mary Alameda is interning this summer in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Communications Department. Mary is a senior studying agricultural communications at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.