County Legislature to oppose lowering 60-hour overtime threshold in agriculture

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 February 2022 at 9:50 pm

‘It would be devastating if it goes through (and is approved by state)’ – Legislator Bill Eick, retired dairy farmer

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature plans to go on the record Wednesday, opposing a push to lower the overtime threshold in agriculture from 60 hours a week to 40.

That change would be particularly difficult for farmers in Orleans County who need workers for intensive hand labor with fruit, vegetable and dairy operations.

Local farms would likely have to curtail overtime to keep labor costs down. That would result in smaller paychecks for workers. Many of the workers would likely go to other states where their work weeks wouldn’t stop at 40 hours, said County Legislator Bill Eick of Shelby, who is a retired dairy farmer.

“These workers will go somewhere else where they can get the hours they want to work,” Eick said this evening during a meeting of Orleans county, village and town officials at the Black North Inn.

A three-person Farm Labor Wage Board voted on Jan. 28  to gradually reduce the overtime threshold in agriculture from 60 hours a week to 40 hours. The reduction in the OT threshold would be phased in from Jan. 1, 2024 to Jan. 1, 2032.

Many on the agriculture community, including New York Farm Bureau, are pleading with Gov. Kathy Hochul to reject the Wage Board’s decision.

“It would be devastating if it goes through,” Eick said.

Lyndonville Mayor John Belson also said he is concerned for wineries, which are growing in the region since the Niagara Wine Trail was established about 20 years ago. Three from Orleans are on that trail.

“It will crush the wineries,” Belson said.

Eick said many other counties around the state have officially opposed lowering the overtime threshold in agriculture. Genesee County voted last week on the measure, stating it was “emphatically” opposed to lowering the threshold.

The Orleans County Legislature, in a draft of the resolution, say farmers face many problems outside their control including climate change, land management policies, foreign market competition, livestock and crop diseases, natural disasters and cost increases of feed, fuel, equipment and labor costs.

“Farmers cannot pass on these increased costs as they operate in a commodities market where prices are set according to global demand,” the resolution states. “Many farmers in agriculture rely on migratory workers during the short growing season in Western New York, as they have a limited window to get the work done.”