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NYS Farm Laborer Wage Board sends farmworker overtime recommendation to Labor Commissioner

farmworkers pay.jpg
Isabel Flores
/
WAER News
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.

The debate continues over lowering the farmworker overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours in New York even as the proposal makes its way to the state’s labor commissioner.  The Farm Laborer Wage Board officially sent its recommendation to Commissioner Roberta Reardon Tuesday to phase in the new limit over 10 years. 
Farmworkers and their allies are calling for swift approval, including Leticia in Wayne County, who has worked on apple orchards for 12 years. She’s married with four children, and currently does not earn overtime.

"I want to earn overtime just like other essential workers. My life with my family would change in all aspects, our way of living, not being so exploited in the workplace and we would have more time to take care of our need with our families," she said through an interpreter.

But farms represented by the New York Farm Bureau say not all farmworkers want to limit their hours. Spokesperson Steve Ammerman says the wage board’s recommendation doesn’t fairly or accurately represent the data and testimony from hours of hearings. He says the overtime change would add yet another burden to farmers.

"It just makes it more difficult to farm. It will make it more difficult to find labor. Many of the seasonal workers who come here are seeking more than 40 hours. In the end, they're going to be limited to 40 hours just because of cost."

But advocates like Emma Kreyche say the state has a dedicated fund to offset the financial blow to farmers over the 10-year phase in, which begins in 2024.

"Any additional hours worked before 40 and 60 as the threshold lowers will be essentially reimbursed to employers at a rate of 118 percent."

But the Farm Bureau’s Steve Ammerman says it's not a panacea.

"The challenge, though, is how that tax credit is going to be disbursed. Farmers are still going to have to front the payroll and the higher labor costs that comes with it many months before any kind of tax credit would be received."

He fears some farms will be forced to hire more workers, change what they grow, or eventually close if the overtime rule is approved.

"This is a very serious and profound change for New York State agriculture. There will be negative repercussions not only for our farms and farmworkers, but also our food supply."

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.