State will hold hearings about lowering new overtime threshold for farmworkers

Photo by Tom Rivers: Farmworkers harvest vegetables last August by Townline Road in Barre.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 February 2020 at 6:20 pm

New legislation on Jan. 1 gives overtime wages for farmworkers after 60 hours in a week

BATAVIA – New state legislation started on Jan. 1 that gives overtime wages to farmworkers after 60 hours in a week. This is the first time farmworkers have had overtime pay.

State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon announced on Monday she will convene a wage board for farm laborers that will hold hearings, review and make recommendations regarding overtime work for farm laborers in New York State. That could include requests to reduce the number of hours worked in a week for farm laborers to qualify for overtime.

There will be public hearings at five locations in the state, including one at 11 a.m. April 23 in Batavia at Genesee Community College, at the William Stuart Forum, 1 College Rd. (Click here to register to speak at the hearing and see other hearing locations.)

Under the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law last year, the wage board will consider and make recommendations as to overtime work and, specifically, will hear testimony about reducing the threshold for overtime below 60 hours per week and whether to do so in phases.

“We worked hard to ensure this bill included the proper labor protections and benefits that our farm laborers are entitled to,” said Commissioner Reardon. “We have an opportunity to improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of farmworkers. Overtime is a key component and we need to get it right.”

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

• Brenda McDuffie, President of the Buffalo Urban League

Fisher, as president of NY Farm Bureau, released the following statement:

“What will be especially challenging for farmers and their employees alike is the timing of the statutorily required hearings.  The law directs the Wage Board to hold its first meeting by March 1 with a report due by December of this year.  It will be incredibly difficult for board members to reasonably determine if the overtime threshold should be justifiably lowered.

“Farmers have just started to implement changes on their farms to comply with the new law and are still determining what is best for their small businesses and employees. Further, crops are not even in the ground for the spring planting season, let alone having no real-world examples of how this new law will impact harvest season. This short window of time also does not allow any ability to see how different growing conditions due to extreme weather can impact overtime needs.

“New York Farm Bureau strongly believes it will take data from multiple growing seasons to appropriately evaluate the economic realities and labor challenges facing New York agriculture as a result of the new overtime threshold implemented only weeks ago. And until that can happen, it should not be lowered.

“New York Farm Bureau appreciates that the Department of Labor accepted our organization’s suggestion to hold the Wage Board hearings in areas of the state that provide easier access for the farming community to attend. We highly encourage our members to take the time to speak at one of the hearings or submit public comments to help better inform the Wage Board members.”

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