This week the New York State Farm Labor Wage Board voted to adjust farm workers’ overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours. The three-member panel voted 2-to-1 to alter the threshold.

It counters a 2019 bill that moved the threshold from 60 to 80 hours. It now needs the approval of New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul and State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon.

“The phase-in schedule will begin on January 1, 2024 with the threshold set at 56 hours; on January 1, 2026, with the threshold set at 52 hours; on January 1, 2028, with the threshold set at 48 hours; on January 1, 2030, with the threshold set at 44 hours; on January 1, 2032, with the threshold set at 40 hours,” read part of the wage board’s resolution written last week before the vote.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, who’s a part of the board, said in a statement that the process was rushed and didn’t consider the concerns of farm owners.

“In the end, the decision was made with little deliberation or reflection of the testimony,” said Fisher. “I would have hoped my fellow board members would have considered more of the impacts that this will have on agriculture…We saw how important that was in the pandemic for consumers and food banks,” continued Fisher. “We heard testimony that labor will be too expensive, and hours will be limited so there won’t be that excess product to give away.”

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman urged the powers that be to do right by farm workers.

“The workers on whom we depend for the food on our tables have waited over 80 years for dignity and to be afforded the same basic workplace protections as all other New Yorkers,” said Lieberman in a statement. “We urge Commissioner Reardon and Gov. Hochul to accept the Wage Board’s recommendations and bring an end to the Jim Crow-era injustice and discrimination against farmworkers that the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act was intended to reverse.”

In 2019, the Farm Laborer Fair Labor Practices Act to work overtime (time and a half) moved from 60 hours a week to 80 hours starting in 2020. These laborers are often tasked with picking apples and raising cows.
“New York’s agriculture industry must no longer depend on the continued exploitation of farmworkers,” said Lieberman. “The NYCLU will continue to stand with farmworkers in the fight for equal workplace protections, fair compensation, and basic rights across New York State.”

New York State farm workers’ rights found itself in the news late last summer when the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) certified Pindar Vineyards workers as Local 338 RWDS/UFCW representation. Now, they can collectively bargain for a new deal. It’s the first farm union certification under the state’s Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which gives farm workers the right to organize.
Pindar Vineyards is in Peconic, New York.

One elected official hopes the labor department and the governor push back against the board’s vote.

Republican New York State Assembly Member Chris Tague, a former dairy farmer, told “You know, some of these folks want to work as many hours as they possibly can…the problem is and this is what people don’t understand, if this law goes into effect, they’re [farm owners] not going to allow their employees to work over 40 hours a week because they can’t afford to pay them overtime.”

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