State Farm Laborers board advances plan to cut overtime threshold

FILE - An employee works in the milking parlor at Dygert Farms in Palatine Bridge in December.

FILE - An employee works in the milking parlor at Dygert Farms in Palatine Bridge in December.

The Farm Laborers Wage Board on Tuesday voted 2-1, as expected, to advance its report recommending that the overtime threshold for farm workers be lowered from 60 hours to 40 hours a week.

Farmers have been outspoken against the drop, arguing it will cut into their already slim profit margins, while labor groups have been advocating for the change as a way to promote workers’ rights.

With Tuesday’s vote, Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon now has 45 days to review the report and its recommendations and announce her decision.

If the threshold takes effect the way the recommendation currently stands, farmers will eventually be required to pay workers time-and-a-half for every hour worked past a 40-hour week. As it stands, the threshold would drop to 40 hours by 2032, with the threshold lowering by four hours per week every other year, starting with a drop to 56 hours in 2024.

“We believe that this decision protects the rights of farm laborers while taking into account the needs of farmers,” said Board Chair Brenda McDuffie, former president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. McDuffie and Denis Hughes, former president of the New York State AFL-CIO, voted in favor of advancing the recommendations. David Fisher, the New York Farm Bureau president, voted against the recommendations.

Fisher said he took issue with much of the report, including statements that many farm workers are paid off the books and that Latino farm workers are mistreated due to their race.

“In the end, I believe the report does not reflect the data, research and scope of the full testimony that was provided,” Fisher said.

The Farm Laborers Wage Board was convened after the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act passed in 2019 and took effect in 2020. The committee held its first of several meetings in February 2020.

The New York State AFL-CIO praised Tuesday’s decision.

“The phased-in overtime threshold will get these dedicated workers to the same 40-hour standard for overtime as other workers,” New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in a statement. “It is important to note that farm owners will get direct support from the new refundable tax credit enacted in the state budget, which will cover the overtime differential paid to workers, plus associated increased costs, dollar-for-dollar.”

The state budget includes expanded tax credits for farmers, including doubling the yearly fixed dollar amount (from $600 to $1,200) of the non-refundable tax credit per eligible employee and extending the program to 2025, as well as creating a permanent, refundable tax credit on overtime hours for any size farm in New York State that covers direct overtime expenses up to 60 hours.

But farmers like Ray Dykeman, of Dykeman and Sons in Montgomery County, say they don’t want government handouts to fix a problem they believe the government created.

“John Q. Public is going to be paying for overtime,” said Dykeman, who also is worried his workers will eventually leave New York for neighboring states that don’t have overtime regulations. “Farmers don’t want taxpayers to be paying for our overtime.”

Currently, agricultural workers are covered by overtime laws in six other states, with the nearest being Maryland, according to Farmworker Justice.

Dykeman said his dairy farm, which employs about 30 workers, will likely scale back its milk production, rather than pay extra costs for labor. He said his farm would be looking to cut production from about 130,000 pounds of milk a day to about 65,000 pounds a day and reduce its herd from about 1,300 to about 700 cows. He expects to trim his staff by about half as a result.

“It’s all going to be based on trying to survive in the state,” Dykeman said.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.


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