Decision from governor and DOL on farmworker OT threshold could be months away

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 February 2022 at 9:07 am

Ag advocates urge governor, DOL commissioner to keep overtime at 60 hours a week

Provided photo: Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia speaks at a press conference with farmers, agricultural advocates and other Republican members of the Assembly in Albany on Tuesday.

It may be months before there is a decision from the Department of Labor and Gov. Kathy Hochul on whether the overtime threshold in agriculture will be reduced from the current 60 hours a week.

The New York Farm Bureau, an agricultural coalition called Grow NY Farms and many Republican state legislators on Tuesday again tried to rally support against lowering the OT threshold.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday said she met with Farm Bureau leaders and heard their concerns. The group has said lowering the OT threshold from 60 to 40 hours would dramatically increase farms’ operating costs. It would likely force them to cut hours for employees, which would upset workers and could push that workforce to other states where they could earn more by working more hours.

Many farms would likely be forced to move away from intensive hand labor – fruit, vegetables and dairy – and go with crops like corn and soybeans where machines do most of the work. Already many dairies are switching to robotic milkers. Ag advocates say an OT change will push many farms out of business.

“We are looking at it closely,” Hochul said in a news conference, responding to a question from a reporter. “Agriculture is an essential industry for us. We need to have industry be strong and viable.”

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.

“It will be a long roll out,” Hochul said. “There will be plenty of time to adapt to it.”

The Wage Board called for a phase in with overtime threshold dropping to 56 hours a week beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, then down to 52 hours on Jan. 1, 2026; 48 hours on Jan. 1, 2028; 44 hours on Jan. 1, 2030, and then a 40-hour threshold to take effect Jan. 1, 2032.

If the threshold is reduced, Hochul said the state should consider offering tax relief to help farmers with the added labor costs.

The Wage Board hasn’t yet submitted an official report to Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. When the report is submitted, the commissioner has 45 days to review the recommendations and announce a decision.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia, a former farmer and Genesee County Farm Bureau president, spoke at a news conference in Albany at the state capitol. Hawley worries that the increases in labor costs will force many farmers out of business.

“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 be entirely preventable,” Hawley said. “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.”