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Long Island farmers say $15 pay would force job cuts

Long Island farmers say a minimum-wage hike in New York State to $15 an hour could force them to cut workers and automate farm operations.

Farmers gathered at Martha Clara Vineyard in Riverhead on Monday to voice opposition to the proposed hike as a state budget deadline approaches April 1, according to a news release from the Long Island Farm Bureau, an advocacy group.

Albany lawmakers are in the process of negotiating the minimum-wage hike. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has advocated raising the state’s $9 minimum wage to $15 statewide.

Long Island growers said their expenses are already higher than those in neighboring states and they cannot pass added costs onto their customers.

"Farmers are price takers, not price makers,” Bob Nolan of Deer Run Farms in Brookhaven was quoted as saying in the release. “When you take a case of lettuce to Hunts Point or sell to local supermarkets, the market sets the price for product."

Karl Novak, of Half Hollow Hills Nursery in Laurel, said in the release that nurseries already operate with thin margins.

"Labor is our most expensive cost input at our nursery, currently close to 50 percent of our total operating cost," he said. "A $15 minimum wage would raise our current labor costs in excess of 60 percent, and would mean close to a 30 percent increase in our total operating expense."

Cuomo said after a political event in Niagara Falls on Tuesday that he supports “special modifications for the agricultural industry because the rules are different and the employees work on a different basis” but did not go into detail.

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