New York’s farms were hit hard during the pandemic.
Milk prices dropped, demand went down with school and restaurants closed, and COVID spikes shutting down production plants, all took their toll on family farms around the state.
According to a survey conducted by the State Farm Bureau, around 43% of farms reported to have lost sales during the pandemic (https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/central-ny/ny-state-of-politics/2020/07/21/farms-face-covid-challenges--report-says-).
The state is now looking to potentially lower the overtime threshold for farm workers, in accordance to the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act that was passed in 2019. This would raise the cost of farm labor, a move Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt calls tone deaf.
“Like every industry, it is struggling now even more during this pandemic,” Senate Minority Leader Orrt said during a press conference Monday. “To do this wage board at this moment, it is so tone deaf I can’t even begin to overstate that.”
The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act required farmers starting on January 1, 2020, to pay their farm workers overtime pay once they clock in more than 60 hours in the week.
However, Dale Hemminger, owner of Hemdale Farms and Greenhouses explained that farm employees put well over 60 hours a week, but only for part of the year.
“We farm in acres not hours,” Hemminger said explaining what was told to the Farm Labor Wage board last week. “I just hope we don’t have this go through and look back in ten years and say that was the day that we cut this industry off at the knees.”
New York’s Wage Labor Board has been tasked with looking to see if that overtime threshold should now be dropped from 60 hours to 40 hours. This report is due at the end of the year.
Senator George Borrello said if New York’s Wage Labor Board decides to lower this threshold, it would cripple New York’s family farms.
Senator Borrello is proposing legislation that would move the date that the Wage Board must submit their report by four years, to December 31st, 2024. This would give the state more time to study the effects of the recent overtime threshold change to 60 hours.
“If this threshold is lowered to below 60 hours a week, many of our farms and our farm jobs will go away forever” Borrello explained. “90% of our farms here in New York State are family farms. If these start to close, we will see the corporate farms that we have seen in other states, in New York State and that will have a negative impact on the industry.”
Senator Jen Metzger, who is the Chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee, says she agrees it is too soon to determine if the overtime threshold should be lowered.
But she is hesitant on new legislation, saying she doubts it is needed.
“I can’t imagine the circumstances under which they would change this threshold when it only has been in existence for a few months,” Senator Metzger explained.
As it stands now, the Farm Laborers Wage Board have until December 31st to issue their recommendations on the overtime threshold.