Even though Assemblyman Felix Ortiz is from Brooklyn, as Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, he knows how hard conditions are for New York family farmers facing high costs and labor shortages and for immigrant farmworkers who must travel with their families seeking work. Last year he attempted to address both of these problems when he sponsored legislation that recently was signed into law (Chapter 684 of 2002), providing a permanent property tax break to farmers for farmworker housing and other facilities that meet all health, labor and other building codes.
According to Ortiz, "I understand the difficulties our hardworking farmers face competing in a world marketplace where other countries have lower costs and even lower standards. However, we don't want to lower our standards here, especially for equally hardworking immigrant farmworkers and their families; we should try to raise standards and lower costs for farmers. It is in farmer's interests to have qualified, healthy and happy employees. My legislation provided an incentive for farmers to maintain or improve housing, kitchens and other farmworker buildings at the highest standards. This is a win-win law and can help farmers' bottom lines, attract farm labor and provide decent living conditions for migrant workers."
As Chair of the Labor and Workforce Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Ortiz has also been working to help New York farmworkers at the national level. Most worker protections should be national since these workers spend only a brief time in New York State and they should enjoy the same benefits everywhere in the nation. Ortiz is especially concerned for workers who are being harassed by the INS when they come here to work. This is a problem that is of concern to both farmworkers and their farm employers. He is also investigating unscrupulous employment firms that convince migrant workers to come here for jobs that are not as advertised.
Ortiz said, "We need to protect vulnerable workers far from home. They deserve the same rights as other workers and those rights should be extended across the country. We also need to promote New York agriculture so these workers have viable farms to come to. Thriving farms provide good jobs help farmworkers, farmers, businesses and consumers of locally-grown nutritious foods. As Chair of the Task Force, a former farm laborer in Puerto Rico and a frequent visitor to farms in New York State, I stand ready to work with both laborers and farmers to come to mutually beneficial solutions."