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Farm workers celebrate overtime change, but others are worried

Four people stand outside holding a sign that says "Farmworker Pay Justice. Sign the Petition." They are posing for the photo.
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, Sept. 9, 2022.

The state's recent approval to reduce the overtime threshold for farm workers from 60 hours to 40 a week is receiving mixed reviews. The recommendation came from the Farm Laborers Wage Board and will be phased-in by reducing the overtime cap by four hours every other year beginning in 2024. Full implementation is slated for 2032.

For advocates like the Workers' Center of CNY who assist migrant farm workers with labor disputes, the new overtime threshold represents a win. Executive Director Jessica Maxwell said the workers will feel valued and respected compared to other workers in the local community.

“The more we can do to create sustainable jobs, reduce those really long shifts, use modern, safe equipment and train workers to be able to do their jobs efficiently and safely, it benefits everybody," Maxwell said.

Maxwell acknowledged the reduction in farm worker overtime limits will be an adjustment. However, she said farms navigated within the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act that gave workers overtime pay, a weekly day of rest, labor protections and unemployment benefits.

However, Justin Wilcox, the director of Upstate United, a coalition of businesses, said he thinks the reduction in overtime hours will further lead to more farms closing and a labor shortage.

“We heard from farm workers that if they can’t work over 40 hours, they’re going to seek employment in other states where they can. We heard this time and time, again," Wilcox said. "Frankly, it actually correlated and aligned well with what the folks at Cornell were telling us, when they did their studies. So, unfortunately, I think this is going harm the very people that the advocates think it’s going to help."  

Wilcox further called the recommendations made by the Farm Laborers Wage Board and backed by the state labor commissioner reckless. The state labor department pointed out that the governor and the state legislature previously passed a series of three new tax credits to support farms with the phase-in of the overtime reduction standard.

The department will now convene a rule-making process complete with a 60-day public comment period.

John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.