Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) is expressing disappointment following a decision by the Farm Laborers Wage Board to advance a recommendation to Commissioner of Labor Roberta Reardon to lower the farm laborer overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40. For months, Hawley has stood alongside farmers, farm workers, agricultural advocates, owners of agri-businesses and other lawmakers to call on the board to reject a proposed reduction to the overtime threshold, warning of the devastating effects such a decision would have on rural communities and all who work in the agricultural sector.
As the board considered whether or not to implement a lower threshold, they collected testimony regarding the proposal during a series of virtual hearings. During those hearings, the vast majority of testimony provided by farmers and farm workers opposed its implementation, warning that it threatened the livelihoods of both farm owners and laborers.
The concerns expressed by those opposed to lowering the threshold have been corroborated by a number of studies, as 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 an increase in labor costs by over 40 percent for New York’s farms. Another 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 where they have the opportunity to work longer hours.
Following the advancement of the Wage Board’s final report and recommendation, the fate of the farm overtime threshold rests in the hands of Reardon, who has 45 days to decide whether to accept or reject it.
“Now that the fate of farming as we know it here in New York state has been put in jeopardy by the Wage Board, even after hearing how their decision will jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and farm laborers, I sincerely hope that Commissioner Reardon will step in to prevent what would prove to be a catastrophic event for rural communities and the entire agricultural sector,” said Hawley. “Lowering this threshold helps nobody while threatening the existence of multi-generational family farms and an entire way of life, so I sincerely hope that ultimately both the threshold and the continued viability of our farms will be preserved.”