DOL commissioner lowers OT threshold in ag; farm groups urge governor to stop ‘damaging decision’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 September 2022 at 6:04 pm

‘This is nothing short of a scheduled collapse of New York’s agricultural industry.’ – State Sen. Rob Ortt

The state will be lowering the overtime threshold in agriculture from 60 to 40 hours a week in phased-in process from 2024 to 2032, the state’s Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon announced this afternoon.

The decision from the DOL commissioner sparked concern in the farm community about much-higher operating costs in a state where New York already is at a competitive disadvantage with other states and countries.

“This is a difficult day for all those who care about New York being able to feed itself,” said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher. “Commissioner Reardon’s decision to lower the farm labor overtime threshold will make it even tougher to farm in this state and will be a financial blow to the workers we all support.

“Moving forward, farms will be forced to make difficult decisions on what they grow, the available hours they can provide to their employees, and their ability to compete in the marketplace,” Fisher said. “All of this was highlighted in the testimony and data that the wage board report and the commissioner simply ignored.”

Fisher was part of a three-person Farm Laborers Wage Board. He cast the lone no vote against recommending the overtime threshold be lowered on Sept. 6. Reardon today said she was going with the Wage Board’s recommendation, which passed 2-1. Fisher was the only representative from the agricultural sector on that board.

The overtime threshold will be phased in over 10 years. The overtime work limit will drop by 4 hours every other year beginning in 2024 until reaching 40 hours in 2032, giving agriculture businesses proper time to adjust, Reardon said.

“I come from a farm community myself, so I know how important the agricultural sector is to the New York State economy,” Reardon said in a statement. “Based on the findings, I feel the Farm Laborers Wage Board’s recommendations are the best path forward to ensure equity for farm workers and success for agricultural businesses.”

During the course of the Wage Board’s deliberations in 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul and State Legislature enacted three new tax credits to assist farm employers in transitioning to a lower overtime standard, the DOL said. Those credits include:

  • The Investment Tax Credit was increased from 4 percent to 20 percent for farm businesses, providing an encouragement for potential automation of farm production.
  • The Farm Workforce Retention Tax Credit was increased to $1,200 per employee to provide near-term relief to farmers.
  • Most importantly, a new refundable overtime tax credit was established for overtime hours paid by farm employers at the level established by the Board and confirmed by the Commissioner up to 60 hours.

GROW NY Farms, a coalition of about 150 organizations in New York’s agricultural industry, issued this statement: “New York’s agricultural community is deeply disappointed in Commissioner Reardon’s ill-informed decision to lower the overtime threshold for our family farms. This decision threatens the security of our food supply, the retention of our skilled farmworkers, and the future of New York’s farms. If Governor Hochul has the ability to step in and stop this damaging decision, she must do so immediately.”

State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt issued this statement: “Today’s decision by the New York State Department of Labor Commissioner is the wrong one. By approving this recommendation from a board composed of unelected bureaucrats, this mandate will devastate family farms still reeling from the pandemic.

“It is clear Albany’s one-party ruling class doesn’t care about family farms and seems hell-bent on destroying agriculture in New York State. This is nothing short of a scheduled collapse of New York’s agricultural industry.”