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Farmworkers are among the lowest wage workers in NY

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Advocates have been pushing for an increase in wages for agricultural workers in New York, after experts found they are among the lowest paid workers in the state.

Cornell University recently published a wage atlas that showed the average pay for farmworkers in New York is $14.65 an hour, despite the state’s minimum wage being $15 an hour in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, and $14.20 per hour for the rest of the state. The wage atlas was created using data from the US Census Bureau’s rolling survey, the American Community Survey, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator.

Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworkers Program, said the issue of low wages for farmworkers begins with the food system, which sells food at prices lower than the cost of production. She said that wages typically account for 50% of a farm’s expenses, but as fuel and other costs rise, there is only one place for flexibility: adjusting wages. Dudley added that farm production systems in New York state rely heavily on an undocumented workforce who do not often advocate for higher wages.

Jessica Maxwell, executive director of the Workers’ Center of CNY, said the center is advocating for the state minimum wage for farmworkers to be raised to $21.25 by 2027, as the cost of food, rent, and utilities continues to rise. Governor Kathy Hochul has proposed indexing minimum wage for all workers in her state budget plan, but Paul Harvey, director of regulatory affairs for the Northeast Dairy Foods Association, said upstate is not ready for another minimum wage increase, and with the lowering of the overtime threshold last year, these changes would negatively impact producers and processors.