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Home » Life » “Farming in upstate NY is already very complicated:” Concerns abound over lowering farm worker overtime threshold

“Farming in upstate NY is already very complicated:” Concerns abound over lowering farm worker overtime threshold

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  • Megan Hatch 

It’s been three years since the Farm Workers Law was signed into law by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. Fast forward to the present day, and the state is looking to change overtime rules concerning farm workers once more.

The New York State Farm Laborers Wage Board is expected to issue a decision on whether to lower the overtime threshold for farmers from 60 to 40 hours a week in September. They would also offer a new tax credit for farmers to combat the burden of extra costs.

If approved, Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon would have 45 days to make the final decision, which would happen in late October.

“If New York wants to compete with other states in the world in agriculture, this is not the way to do it,” says local farmer (video)

More: Board decision on 40-hour farm overtime proposal coming in September

Overtime and overworking

Historically, farmer workers were excluded from overtime laws. Since the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act went into effect in 2020, farm workers have been able to collect overtime pay on time worked after the 60-hour per week threshold.

Scott Allen, a partner at Lippes Mathias LLP and team leader for the law firm’s agricultural practice group, grew up on Reeves Farms in Baldwinsville. He worked on the family farm every summer until his sophomore year in college. He says he understands the hard work and difficulties of farmers face in the industry.

“I think many farmers feared at the outset that they would not be able to stay in business if labor costs increase with these overtime provisions and still feel that way,” said Allen.

Kim Skellie is one of four managing partners at El-Vi Farms in Newark. He wonders out loud if he can trust the state to follow through with the tax credit put in place.

“The question will really be, ‘can we trust the government to follow through with the tax credit put in place?’ There are some people who don’t want to come to New York because they can go to another 45 states where there are no work time restrictions. And the word is kind of out there,” said Skellie. “We’ve already heard some farmers say they’re having a hard time getting some people to come back. They used to come every year.”

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“This is not the time to increase costs on businesses”

Jeff Williams is the Director of Public Policy at the New York Farm Bureau, and mentioned that their president David Fisher was the only one of three board members on the state Farm Laborers Wage Board that voted against lowering the overtime threshold.

“The other two seem pretty intent on lowering the overtime threshold from 60 to 40, over 10 years. It’s still not a done deal, if they do that, because the Governor still has to accept their proposal,” explained Williams.

“We’re trying to make the case for farmers who continue to say this is not the time to increase costs on businesses. Granted, there is a tax credit, but with major supply chain issues, the cost of diesel fuel, and fertilizer, this is not the right time. We can easily save the state $100 million or more if they kept it at 60, where both farmers and farm workers are very comfortable.”

More: Farmworker advocates applaud new tax credit for farmers in state budget