Back in January, the New York Labor Department’s Farm Laborer’s Wage Board determined that the overtime threshold for farm workers should be lowered from 60 to 40 hours a week.
In response to the decision, the state budget, which was passed in April, included tax credits for farmers to help them pay for the increased wages.
But the higher wages have yet to go into effect, and may not for months.
In response to an emailed query from Capital Tonight about the issue, the Department of Labor wrote that “the Farm Laborer’s Wage Board official report is still in process at this time, there is no set timetable for its completion.”
The process includes the following steps:
First, the Farm Laborers Wage Board will need to vote to adopt its official report from January. Only then will the board’s report be sent to state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon.
Once the Wage Board’s report is sent to the commissioner, she will have 45 days from when she receives the report to review the recommendations and announce her decision on the overtime threshold for farm laborers. The public will be notified in accordance with public meeting law and it will also be posted online.
Reardon may also overturn the Wage Board’s decision.
Farm worker advocates like Richard Witt, executive director of Rural Migrant Ministries, are not sure why there’s been a delay in implementing a decision made back in January.
“I’m really at a loss as to what is taking so long,” Witt said. “For years actually, we’ve heard the Farm Bureau and other farmers say that they couldn’t afford this change. And the governor put in the budget a tax credit that would enable them to afford it. So I think the governor has addressed their main concern. So I’m really at a loss as to why this delay.”
According to Witt, the majority of New Yorkers are entitled to overtime pay, so why not farm workers?
“There’s really no moral justification for not treating farm workers the same,” he said. “They have families; they need to pay their bills.”
But farmers are worried about higher costs.
While the state budget doubled the farm workforce retention tax credit to help offset rising labor costs, farmers are concerned about having to front the cash and then wait for the state to reimburse them. They are also unhappy about the added paperwork that will be involved.
The timing of the lower overtime threshold worries farmers too, coming after a hike in the minimum wage and during a period of sustained inflation.
On Wednesday, the Grow NY Farms Coalition announced that the Business Council of New York State (BCNYS), the National Federation of Independent Businesses of New York (NFIB), and Upstate United have sent letters to Gov. Kathy Hochul urging her to maintain the overtime threshold at 60 hours on family farms across New York state.
Farmers have had a rough time in New York, according to the New York Farm Bureau, which reports that the state lost about 2,000 farms between the 2012 and 2017, and nearly 300,000 acres of farmland.
But according to Witt, the gradual implementation of the lower overtime threshold should help ease the transition for farmers.
“I think the Wage Board has been very thoughtful…in proposing to implement this over a 10-year period. It gives all of us a chance to slowly get into this. I’ve also heard that many farmers are having trouble finding workers,” Witt said.
As for the added paperwork, Witt is certain that if farmers have to do it, they’ll figure it out.
“I’m sure with all the creative minds in New York, we can figure out how to make this subsidy work,” he said. “The agricultural industry is getting a subsidy to do something that everyone else in our society is having to do on their own.”