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Lower farm labor overtime threshold regulations finalized

WAMC/Pat Bradley
Tractor in field

This week the New York State Department of Labor finalized farm labor overtime regulations. Over the next 10 years overtime will be reduced from the current 60-hour threshold to 40 hours. Backers say it’s a worker rights and fairness issue. But the industry says it will unduly burden farmers.

After taking testimony for over two years on the proposal for a phased-in lower overtime threshold for farmworkers, the Farm Laborers Wage Board in September voted two to one to recommend implementation. This week the final regulations were adopted by the state Department of Labor.

The New York Farm Bureau was opposed to the change and its president was the only nay vote on the Wage Board. Spokesperson Steve Ammerman says finalization by the state Labor Department is not a surprise.

“Posting the regs in the register really is a formality. There were no changes to the recommendation. But the issues we had last year with lowering the overtime threshold still remain and time will tell what serious repercussions this will have on our food system as well as our workforce.”

During the Wage Board’s last meeting in September, Hispanic Federation President and CEO Frankie Miranda, a supporter of lowering the overtime threshold, told the wage board that farm laborers deserve the same rights as all other workers.

“Granting farm workers a 40 hour work week will mark an end to a legacy of Jim Crow that has been allowed to continue in our state for over 80 years and at last grant farm workers the overtime protection that virtually every other worker enjoys.”

Dairy and other farms dot the landscape of the 115th state Assembly district represented by Democrat D. Billy Jones. He criticizes the process, noting there had been legislation proposed regarding the overtime threshold, but it was handed to the wage board to decide.

“We have to stop as legislators letting boards or commissions or whatever you want to call them to decide what we legislate. Furthermore, when we are the only, one of the only, states doing this it is going to put our farmers at a competitive disadvantage, which in return will put our consumers at a disadvantage. And that is going to hurt the whole agricultural and farm worker industry in my opinion and the consumers.”

Ammerman says farm owners and workers are now considering their long-range options in the midst of a fluctuating economy.

“Will it change what they grow? Will they reduce hours? Will they eliminate positions? It all comes down to what they can afford. And labor costs continue to rise. Inflation remains high. So this is a serious issue and our farmers are going to be trying to figure out how to make it work. At the same time our employees are going to have to figure out what they may want to do. Many of the employees, particularly those in the dairy industry as well as coming over on the H2A guest worker program are seeking more hours. That’s what they told us. That’s what they testified about. And they’ll be looking at their job opportunities and if they may go to other states where they can get the hours and the income that they’re looking for for themselves and their families.”

The new overtime rules will reduce the overtime threshold by four hours every other year until it reaches 40 hours in 2032.

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