State legislators, congressman hear concerns about farmworker OT bill

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 September 2020 at 8:37 am

LYNDONVILLE – H.H. Dobbins hosted a tour for state legislators and a member of Congress on Friday, and the company shared concerns about filling job openings and the prospect of having the overtime threshold drop from the current 60 hours a week.

The state on Jan. 1, 2020 instituted an overtime threshold for agriculture for the first time, with workers getting time-and-a-half after 60 hours in a week as part of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act.

That 60-hour cap before overtime could be reduced. A Wage Board is holding public hearings about the issue.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia was on the tour on Friday at Dobbins, an apple packing and storage company. Dobbins is looking to hire 20 people.

“The dilemma for many businesses, including agriculture, is finding enough people who want to work even regular hours,” Hawley posted on Facebook after the tour.

Other farmers were at the tour to tell the elected officials the reduced overtime threshold would hurt their businesses, making them less competitive with agricultural operations in other states and countries.

“We were joined by other area farmers who all expressed grave concern about the lowering of hours/week requiring OT pay,” Hawley said.

State Sen. Robert Ortt said many farmworkers are bypassing New York so they can be in other states where they can work as many hours as they want. New York’s farm labor law is actually resulting in smaller paychecks for workers, Ortt said.

Farmers worry the Wage Board could lower the overtime threshold to 40 hours.

“The Wage Board will increase costs for farmers and agriculture,” Ortt said. “They will drive businesses and workers out of New York State.”

The Wage Board includes the following members: David Fisher, President of the New York Farm Bureau; Denis Hughes, former President of the New York State AFL-CIO; and Brenda McDuffie, President of the Buffalo Urban League.

Congressman Chris Jacobs also toured Dobbins on Friday. He is a member of the House Agriculture Committee

“H.H. Dobbins has an extremely impressive operation packaging and distributing fruit that harnesses the power of local labor and innovative technology,” Jacobs said in a statement. “However, they are also a testament to USDA programs’ success and the ability for local businesses to adapt. They took advantage of the Farmers to Families Food Box USDA program developed to aid growers and processors affected by COVID-19. This allowed them to keep their staff employed and supply families in need with nutritious food all around the country. These programs are vital to the restoration of our agriculture industry and seeing the benefits first-hand will make me that much stronger of an advocate for their continuation as we defeat COVID-19.”

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