NEW YORK — A group of Democrats in the New York State Assembly have called on Governor Kathy Hochul to suspend an order by the State Labor Commissioner to lower the threshold that farmworkers qualify for overtime.
The order, which was announced Friday, accepted the recommendation of the Farm Laborers Wage Board to drop the current 60-hour threshold to 40 hours per week by 2032. The decision has been celebrated by workers’ rights groups who have long said that farmworkers should be paid like every other industry.
“It's a basic question of equality and fairness to have one category of workers left out of what we've come to view as a fundamental workers’ right or laborers’ right is just untenable,” said Jessica Maxwell, Executive Director at The Workers Center of Central New York.
Maxwell has heard plenty of concerns from farmers and Republican lawmakers who have said the decision could tank New York farms, many of which are family owned and operated.
Travis Torrey a partner at Torrey Farms Inc. in Elba told 2 On Your Side that because New York’s growing season is relatively short, it often requires long days for optimal produce harvesting but only for four months out of the year. Torrey said those long days could lead to massive overtime costs for farms.
“We're not saying there won't be situations where workers won't have to work overtime, we're simply saying they should be paid accordingly and there are lots of other industries where that's true,” said Maxwell, who used healthcare as one example.
Six assembly Democrats including Assemblymembers Carrie Woerner, Billy Jones, John McDonald, Pat Fahy, Al Stirpe, and Marianne Buttenschon echoed the concerns of farmers during a virtual press conference Tuesday. They also argued that with many still recovering post-pandemic and dealing with inflation this decision should be delayed.
“This is no time to make a change,” said 109th District Assemblymember Marianne Buttenschon.
The 60-hour threshold would be gradually dropped four hours every two years over the next decade starting in 2024 so farmers would not immediately see a change. Compared to other states like California and Washington, New York’s implementation is much more gradual. Assemblymember Carrie Woerner suggested revisiting the legislation that created the Farm Laborers Wage Board, to add carveouts for family farms.
"Our farms are not large factory farms like you fly over in the middle part of the country our farms are family-owned and family-run operations,” Assemblymember Woerner said.
“We have great concerns that the lowering of the overtime threshold will impact the viability of our small family farms,” she added.
Assemblymember Pat Fahy, who voted in favor of the legislation that created the Farm Laborers Wage Board said during Tuesday’s press conference that she now believes it should be altered.
"While I recognize that this was a negotiated agreement, this has been in the works for a number of years and we voted on this in 2019 none of us could have anticipated the events that have occurred,” Assemblymember Fahy said.
The state has created a refundable tax credit for farm owners intended to defray the cost of overtime. Another credit for buying equipment to improve efficiency on farms or move to automation was also extended in the 2023 budget.
ADDITIONAL INFO: The guidance is expected to be posted for public comment in the State Registrar later this month. That will kick off a 60-day period for farmers, farmworkers, and anyone else with an opinion to weigh in.