NY Farm Bureau asks Hochul for reversal of 40-hour work week decision
Members of the New York Farm Bureau are reacting to a state labor board decision to back a ten-year phase-in of a 40-hour work week for farm laborers. They warn that could severely diminish the state’s agricultural industry, which is largely made up of small, family-owned farms.
Late on Friday, the Farm Laborers Wage Board announced that a 40-hour work week will be required for farmworkers, beginning in 2032. When workers reach that limit, they will be eligible for overtime pay. The requirement will be phased in over the next ten years.
David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau and a dairy farmer in St. Lawrence County, is on the three-person wage board, and was the only member to vote against the plan.
“To drop the threshold to 40 hours over the next decade will be extremely difficult for farmers and farm workers alike to absorb,” said Fisher on Monday. “And will change the face of New York agriculture.”
Fisher says farm owners, who recently adapted to a 60-hour work week, down from 80 hours, can’t afford to pay the amount of overtime a 40-hour limit would require. He and other farmers predict that many will grow and harvest fewer fruits and vegetables, and produce less milk. He says it might cause some to leave farming altogether.
Supporters, including labor unions, pushed for the change, saying farm laborers are the only category of workers who have not fallen under the state’s labor laws requiring overtime pay after 40 hours of work per week.
Fisher says he’s also concerned that the full board did not review all of the video testimony collected during public hearings held on the proposal. He says at least a dozen videos from opponents were not viewed at all. He says 70% of the testimony came from opponents, who said the measure would also hurt farmworkers.
“It will mean fewer hours and less income, and force those wanting to find more work to find a second job or leave New York State,” Fisher said. “We can’t afford to lose our skilled workforce.”
The Farm Bureau is asking Governor Kathy Hochul to “rethink” the wage board decision, and override the vote.
Jeff Williams, public policy director for the bureau, says they will “make every effort” to convince Hochul to modify or reverse the decision.
“This decision is firmly placed at the feet of Governor Hochul,” said Williams. “It’s up to this governor to decide see whether she wants a meaningful agriculture industry in this state. And if she doesn’t change her mind, it’s not going to be meaningful.”
Hochul, in her state budget plan, has proposed a tax credit to help offset the overtime pay required under the change. Fisher says it “looks good on paper,” but he will need to see details of whether it’s a good solution.
Williams says farmers are concerned that they would have to pay the workers the overtime first, and then wait until the tax returns are processed the following year to apply the tax credit, and that could create cash flow problems.
“If we could think of some way to make that an easier process, a quicker process, then that is something definitely worthy of exploring,” Williams said.
Unless Hochul acts to change it, the phase into a 40-hour work week for farm laborers begins in January of 2024, with the institution of a 56-hour work week.
A spokesman for Hochul, Jim Urso, said in a statement that “Governor Hochul is committed to making New York the most business-friendly and worker-friendly state in the nation and has proposed major investments in her Executive Budget to boost the State’s agricultural industry—including a significant tax credit package that would support both farmers and farm workers. We are confident that [New York State Department of Labor] Commissioner [Roberta] Reardon will review the Board’s recommendations closely and ensure that the final decision puts the State on a path to improve the lives of farm workers while protecting New York’s vital farm industry.”