Action Alert!



The Joint Standing Committee on Labor and Housing will hold public hearings on two bills that would:
FORCE FARMS TO PAY OVERTIME AND ELIMINATE ABILITY TO PAY PIECE RATE (LD 1022 An Act To Make Agricultural Workers and Other Workers Employees under the Wage and Hour Laws)

ALLOW FARM WORKERS TO UNIONIZE (LD 151 An Act To Protect Farm Workers by Allowing Them To Organize for the Purpose of Collective Bargaining)




LD 1022 An Act To Make Agricultural Workers and Other Workers Employees under the Wage and Hour Laws (click title for link to the bill)This bill will change current law, making agricultural employees and seasonal employees subject to the laws that place limits on mandatory overtime. It also provides that agricultural employees will be subject to the laws that set a minimum wage and overtime rate. It provides that the laws that set an overtime rate apply to certain activities related to agricultural produce, meat and fish products and perishable foods.

This bill is identical to LD 1251 (read bill sponsor Rep. Harnett’s testimony HERE) which was unanimously voted Ought Not To Pass in the 129th Legislature. During that hearing, Maine farmers were attacked by numerous organizations that accused Maine farmers of profiting from exploitation and racism.

In 2019, the Labor and Housing Committee was told:
Farmworkers are being paid less than was promised or stipulated in their contract, as well as reports of employers making illegal deductions from workers paychecks, such as fees for transportation, supplies, or recruitment fees. There have also been reports of farmworkers recruited for a specific type of work, but later, without explanation, brought to a different farm and forced to work there instead.“(Stephanie Bratnick, Preble Street, 2019 testimony).
Because they often are paid so little, they struggle to afford immigration fees (did you know that it costs over $1,000 to apply for a green card?), to support family members, or to afford transportation to medical or legal appointments.” (Julia Brown, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, 2019 testimony).

The Committee was given misleading correlations between MAINE farm labor practices and racism:
The reason for the inequity in protections between working people in the agriculture sector and working people in other sectors is rooted in a history in Maine and America of categorically excluding certain groups from basic labor rights and laws. These exclusions are rooted in the history of race and racism in this country.” (Adam Goode, Maine AFL-CIO, 2019 testimony).

Previous testimony asserted a misleading correlation that the implementation of ag overtime pay in other states means it can be done in Maine with no economic impact to farm owners: “How these states have extended overtime protection to farmworkers shows us how it can be done in a way that eliminates or minimizes the perceived economic hardship on employers…Maine can enact minimum wage and overtime protections for farmworkers, as have many other states, and take responsible steps to mitigate any adverse effects of those benefits which there might be.” (Michael Guare, Pine Tree Legal Assistance Farmworker Unit, 2019 testimony 

We need to educate legislators about how MAINE’s farm workers are treated like family, often earning more than the farm owners pay themselves. What happens in other states is not what is happening in Maine.

We need to tell the Committee members how YOUR farm operates. The Committee will ask for statistics, so, if possible, please provide in your testimony:

  • how many non-family members you employ (seasonal and year-round)
  • how your workers are paid (hourly, by bushel, etc.)
  • how often do your workers work overtime
  • is overtime mandatory?
  • any bonuses (monetary or other) that are paid to workers
  • do you provide housing, food or other amenities (free transportation to banks, stores, appointments, etc.)
  • the total labor costs for your farm (estimated annually)
  • the percent of labor costs (annual labor costs divided by annual farm costs)
  • how much you as the farm owner make per hour (estimate)
  • IMPACT – if this bill becomes legislation, how will your farm be impacted?

In addition to providing written and live testimony, please fill out this brief confidential survey (click HERE) to help Maine Farm Bureau provide aggregate data to the Labor and Housing Committee.

LD 151 An Act To Protect Farm Workers by Allowing Them To Organize for the Purpose of Collective Bargaining This bill proposes to allow persons working in agriculture to organize for the purposes of collectively bargaining for wages, hours, other working conditions and benefits without fear of reprisal. The bill would exempt farms under a certain size and with a limited number of employees.

This bill is identical to LD 1211 which was introduced and unanimously voted Ought Not To Pass in the 129th Legislature. At that hearing, not one Maine agricultural worker testified for the need to unionize. Not one Maine farm worker testified. This is a concept brought forward and insisted upon by labor organizations that would profit from unionization.
During the 2019 hearing, bill sponsor Representative Harnett testified that his belief in the need for unionization of ag workers stemmed from his experience in New York and with the now defunct DeCoster Egg Farm. (Read his full testimony HERE).

In his testimony Rep. Harnett asserted that “ workers have been treated as ‘less than’ in Maine, in almost every other state and under federal law… [because] Farm workers, particularly migrant farm workers who travel from state to state to harvest the crops that feed us, are generally people of color, often from other countries and, in many cases, do not speak English as their native language. They are ripe for exploitation and do not generally make waves. They do backbreaking manual labor for long hours, work that local people generally would never consider doing.
Rep. Harnett failed to acknowledge that the majority of farm workers in Maine are “local people.” 
He further asserted that “…the lives and working conditions of [farm] workers have changed little since Edward R. Murrow’s Harvest of Shame was produced and televised in 1960, about 60 years ago.” We know this is not true of Maine’s farms and need to tell the Committee members about current working conditions.
Finally, Rep. Harnett asserted that farm wages are low because of a lack of ability to unionize. We need to provide the Committee with information about current market conditions and the lack of profitability in Maine’s agriculture industry.

Adam Goode of Maine AFL-CIO testifiedMany paid farmworkers in Maine are migrant workers. They work in agricultural fields related to blueberries, seafood, trees, poultry, dairy, wreaths and eggs. The nature of these work arrangements is full of power imbalances related to immigration status, language barriers and economic vulnerability. Exposure to pesticides, poor housing, isolation and loneliness are a normal part of the routine for migrant workers in Maine. 

During the 129th Legislature, the chairs of the Labor and Housing Committee sent a letter to the Department of Labor requesting that interested parties be convened to discuss wages, hours worked and collective bargaining for agricultural and seasonal employees (click HERE to read the letter) to address these bills. The interested parties met once, on November 4, 2019. Maine Farm Bureau’s Executive Director, Julie Ann Smith, represented your farm and labor needs at that meeting. Many questions were raised at the meeting and the group intended to meet again, but the Department of Labor did not re-convene the group. Click HERE to read the meeting notes.

We need as many farmers AND farm workers as possible to testify about any impact to their farm. Please call the office (207-622-4111) if you have questions or would like help with your testimony.
To Share Testimony with the Committee on Labor and Housing
You can submit written testimony and/or sign up to deliver live testimony HERE.
-Select “Public Hearing”, then “Labor and Housing Committee”
-Select date of the hearing “Apr 7 2021 10:00 am
-“Select bill title:
LD 1022, HP 760 An Act To Make Agricultural Workers and Other Workers Employees under the Wage and Hour Laws 
LD 151, HP 107 An Act To Protect Farm Workers by Allowing Them To Organize for the Purpose of Collective Bargaining).

-Be sure to click the box “I would like to present my testimony live.”

Please note that you will have to sign up for bills separately in order to testify live for both. If you have any trouble registering to testify or submitting your written testimony, please call the office at 207-622-4111 and we will happily assist you.