Members of the Assembly Minority Conference, along with advocates supporting New York’s farmers, gathered to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to reject the recent recommendation by the Farm Laborers Wage Board to further lower the overtime threshold for farm workers.
To that end, members of the Conference have also sent the governor a letter highlighting the challenges the change would pose to the state’s agriculture community.
Recently, the board recommended lowering the threshold to 40-hours per week, despite myriad studies, reports and testimony highlighting the economic damage the change would have on the industry. Additionally, the threshold was recently lowered to the current 60-hour level not long before the board’s decision.
“New York’s farmers are already dealing with one of the worst business climates in America. Putting any more strain on these small businesses is going to force already-struggling farmers to close shop, lay off laborers or move to a less oppressive state,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R,C,I-Pulaski). “We are calling on the governor to do what’s right by these hardworking small-business owners and wholly reject the change as proposed. If enacted, the irreparable damage caused to family farms and the farming industry in New York will fall squarely on the governor’s shoulders.”
“The changes proposed by the Farm Laborers Wage Board are unworkable and unfair to the farmers who will bear the costs. I have spoken to farmer after farmer and they have all expressed major concerns for the long-term viability of their businesses,” said Assemblyman Chris Tague (R,C,I-Schoharie). “Ultimately, these changes are going to harm the very laborers they aim to help. Jobs are going to be moved out of state or cut altogether, and that isn’t good for the farmers or their workers. Without a doubt, lowering the threshold any further will devastate the state’s agricultural industry.”
A recent report by Farm Credit East projects changing the overtime threshold to 40-hours per week, paired with changes to increases in the minimum wage, would result in a 42 percent spike in labor costs. Additionally, as reported by Cornell University, 70 percent of farmworkers interviewed indicated they would relocate to another state if New York implemented the board’s new capped hours.
“70 percent of testimony during the wage board hearings was in favor of keeping the threshold at 60 hours, an agreed upon compromise that took effect only two years ago and where it should remain. We heard testimony how a 40-hour week would negatively impact the futures of our family farms, farmworker livelihoods and New York's food system. Any change must be carefully thought through and be contingent on budget funding that would entirely offset the expected increase in labor costs,” said Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau’s Public Policy Director.
“The end of farming as we know it in New York would be one of the greatest tragedies our state has ever seen, but it is one that would have been entirely preventable,” said Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia). “Gov. Hochul and Commissioner Reardon have been made very aware of the consequences the decision to lower the overtime threshold would have, and the power now rests in their hands to decide whether they stand with our farmers and rural communities or the special interests who’ve worked to advance this proposal.”
“Our family farms have been decimated by decades of unfriendly policies toward agriculture and they are struggling to come out of this pandemic unscathed. The Farm Laborers Wage Board deciding to lower the overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours is irresponsible,” said Assemblyman Brian Miller (R,I,C-New Hartford). “The policy will devastate the agricultural industry and the many jobs that come with it. Farm work is too unpredictable, often dictated by weather. Placing this burden on family farms is unconscionable. I urge Gov. Hochul and the labor commissioner to reject this policy.”
“New York farmers are some of the nation’s best, yet time and again, with policies like these, the state shows they are continually undervalued,” said Assemblyman John Lemondes (R,C,I-Lafayette). “The overtime threshold must be reset for the sake of those operating our farms. Otherwise, our producers may flee the state in droves.”