Wage Board votes to reduce farmworker OT threshold from 60 to 40 hours a week

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 January 2022 at 10:00 pm

Overtime changes to gradually be phased in from 2024 to 2032

Photo by Tom Rivers: A farmer plows a field on March 26 to get the land on Gaines Basin Road in Albion ready for spring planting.

A three-person Farm Labor Wage Board voted today 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 in the farming community testified at hearings this month the decision would actually hurt workers, who would see smaller paychecks due to working less hours each work. Many farmers said they would be looking to grow less labor-intensive crops.

The decision this afternoon from the Wage Board was called a “disastrous policy” by State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, whose district includes many farm and agricultural operations in Orleans, Niagara and Monroe counties.

“By lowering the overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40, unelected bureaucrats – empowered by Albany Democrats – are jeopardizing the future of New York’s agriculture industry,” Ortt said. “This decision is the result of the 2019 passage of the so-called Farm Labor Act, sponsored by a New York City Senate Democrat who doesn’t have a single farm in her district.

“Everyone agrees that family farmers and farmworkers deserve to be treated fairly,” Ortt said. “With this new burdensome mandate, they will be added to the exodus of people leaving our state. Today will be remembered as the day that family farming died a slow death in our state – and it was radical, out-of-touch Senate Democrats who killed it.”

Grow NY Farms issued the following statement:

“The Farm Laborers Wage Board voted two-to-one to recommend lowering the overtime threshold to 40 hours a week over the next decade, despite 70% of the testimony made by farmers and farmworkers who asked for overtime to stay at 60. It is disingenuous and irresponsible that the data, research, and comments made from those who know agriculture best were cast aside by the majority of the Wage Board. Changing the overtime threshold to 40 hours a week for farmworkers in New York means that these workers will be limited to 40 hours, due to simple farm economics. This is not a win for farmworkers that self-proclaimed worker advocates will claim.

“Agricultural production, diversification, and job availability will suffer. That is no scare tactic. We have already seen farmworkers leave the state for more hours of work and production shift to less labor-intensive crops since the farm labor legislation was enacted in January 2020. Further collapse of New York agriculture is on the hands of those who spread falsehoods and look to destroy the livelihoods of farmworkers they say they represent. This is also a loss for New Yorkers who enjoy and depend on access to local food, something that was highlighted during the pandemic.

“New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher voted against lowering the threshold, simply asking for more time to study the economic impacts of a lower threshold. Governor Hochul and Commissioner Reardon must now do what is right and let the facts be their guide. If this administration cares about the future of upstate New York, Long Island and urban access to locally produced food, they must put a stop to the constant regulatory assault on agriculture.

“Grow NY Farms would like to thank everyone who testified this year. The care and respect they have for their employees were clear from the beginning. No wage board decision can take that away. We all value essential farm work and want the very best for farm employees, that includes the ability to earn a livelihood in the profession they have chosen.”