New York’s potentially big step toward lowering the threshold from a 60- to 40-hour overtime rule for farm workers that could be phased in over the next 10 years is not being met with optimism by local and state officials.
The vote by the three-member wage board capped a series of public hearings this month that heated up debate over compensation for agricultural workers in New York, many from Mexico, Guatemala and other foreign countries. State Sen. George Borrello said the decision is “potentially fatal blow” to those in agriculture.
“The Farm Laborers Wage Board and the Democrat One-Party-Rule which empowered them have dealt a potentially fatal blow to the livelihoods of New York State’s hard working farm families with the devastating decision to recommend lowering the farm worker overtime threshold to 40 hours per week,” he said. This move will spell the beginning of the end for many farms in this once-vibrant industry and force others to scale down production, increase automation or relocate.
“This decision is also a blow to the farm workers, who activists claim will be the ‘beneficiaries’ of this change. These workers have been outspoken over the past several months about their opposition to a lower threshold and the smaller paychecks that would result. Our state already lost many of these workers when the 60-hour threshold was imposed, in favor of Ohio, Pennsylvania and other agriculture-friendly states. That exodus will now become a stampede, thanks to this capitulation to radical activists.”
The board voted Friday to lower the farm threshold by four hours every other year, starting with overtime after 56 hours on or after Jan. 1, 2024. The recommendations were approved in a series of 2-1 votes, with member David Fisher, representing the New York Farm Bureau, opposing them.
“Agricultural production, diversification, and job availability will suffer,” wrote the Grow NY Farms coalition. “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.”
Average hourly wages for agricultural workers in the region last year were $16.16, according to federal figures, though some earn the minimum wage of $13.20.
This morning, the New York Farm Bureau will outline its top state priorities for the 2022 legislative session as well as discuss Friday’s Farm Labor Wage Board overtime threshold decision in a virtual press conference. Bureau members will also highlight important funding in the Executive Budget. Many of the legislative goals this year will focus on agricultural investments including environmental funding to address climate change, processing needs, and support for farm beverage producers.
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