Assemblyman Chris Tague (R,C,I-Schoharie) slammed the Farm Laborers Wage Board in the wake of their decision to advance a recommendation to Commissioner of Labor Roberta Reardon to lower the farm laborer overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40. For months Tague has joined farmers, farm workers, agri-business owners, agricultural advocates, and fellow state, local and federal lawmakers in opposing the threshold’s reduction, citing numerous studies warning of the disastrous consequences such a decision would have on the agricultural sector as well as testimony provided to the Wage Board by farmers and farm workers who overwhelmingly opposed the measure.
The threat to farmers’ livelihoods posed by this proposed change to the threshold has only grown more dire in recent months, as inflation’s effect on the price of commodities such as fuel and fertilizer has further strained their ability to make ends meet. A report by Farm Credit East has stated that the total cost of lowering the overtime threshold to 40 hours, coupled with minimum wage increases, would result in a spike in labor costs of over 40 percent for New York’s farms.
The proposed lowering of the threshold is opposed by farmers as well as farm workers, as the majority of public comments received by the Wage Board from farm workers warned against its implementation. Many farm workers value the opportunity to work long hours and expressed concern that lowering the threshold would reduce the amount of work available to them. A recent study by Cornell University found that 70 percent of New York farm labor guest workers would not return to New York were the threshold to be lowered and would instead seek work in other states.
Now that the Farm Laborers Wage Board has advanced their final report and recommendation, the fate of the farm overtime threshold rests in the hands of Commissioner Reardon, who has 45 days to decide to either accept or reject it.
“The decision will hurt our farms, our farm workers, and our rural economies and jeopardizes the continued existence of farming as we know it here in New York state,” said Tague. “Testimony from both groups of stakeholders in this issue, farmers and farm workers, overwhelmingly opposed the reduction of the threshold, providing full warning to the board about how their decision would devastate their livelihoods and help no one. I am as shocked as I am disappointed that even after being made to understand how lowering the threshold will hurt everyone involved in agriculture, the Wage Board would still decide to move forward with their dangerous decision. Our only hope at this point is if Labor Commissioner Reardon decides to take a stand for New York’s farms and reject the board’s recommendation.”