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Advocates for 40 hour farm laborer work week hoping for final approval

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Isabel Flores
The Workers Center of Central New York collected signatures outside the New York State Fair in support of reducing the number of hours in the work week for farm laborers.

Crispin Hernandez is a former dairy farm worker and still knows many people who work in agriculture. He's in favor of the work week for farm laborers being changed form 60 to 40 hours before getting overtime. He knows from experience just how grueling these jobs are.

"Honestly, the work is very hard. I worked 12 hours seven days a week and just repeated that, the work is very repetitive. After 12 hours, sometimes I felt like I didn’t have shoulders, my hands were in so much pain,” Hernandez said in Spanish.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon on Tuesday will either accept or deny the Wage Board decision to lower farm workers’ hours. Hernandez said he thinks workers deserve more recognition and justice for the essential work they perform.

“We are always essential workers, not only during the pandemic. So, we are asking the salary board to move along with this decision so that they can recognize us, the agricultural workers. This is what we’re asking for overall, and it is their responsibility to move forward with this," he said in Spanish.

The Farm Laborers Wage Board already voted in favor of reducing the number of hours in the work week. The Workers Center of Central New York spent “Dairy Day” at the fair collecting signatures to support the change. Hernandez said the farm laborers directly involved in agricultural production do not get proper recognition.

“Us agricultural workers don’t have the same benefits that other workers do. So that’s why we’re asking for help from the salary board. Like I mentioned before, this is a very important day for milk here at the fair, but they aren’t saying anything about the workers," he said in Spanish.

Jessica Maxwell is the executive director for the Workers Center of Central New York. She is also fighting to change the overtime rules. Maxwell says that New York is behind a lot of other states when it comes to farm worker wages.

“A lot of our other biggest agricultural competitors are already moving to the 40-hour work week. California has already done it, Washington is already in the middle of implementing it, they’ll be there in another year. Oregon has also already implemented it. Washington and California are two of our biggest AG Market competitors… It’s not like we’re out on the lead on this. We’re playing catch-up, and it’s about time," Maxwell said.

Governor Kathy Hochul and Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon will either accept or deny the Wage Board decision to lower farm workers’ hours on Tuesday.

Isabel Flores is a graduate student studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May of 2023. As a multimedia reporter, she helps to present as well as produce audio and digital content for WAER. In her free time, Isabel enjoys working out and listening to all genres of music.