Farm Wage Board delays lowering 60-hour overtime threshold for farm workers

ALBANY — The state Department of Labor’s Farm Wage Board decided Thursday to delay lowering the 60-hour farm labor overtime threshold until at least November.

The three-member board was appointed earlier last year to parse out one of the more controversial points — the overtime threshold — of the New York Fair Labor Practices Act, which instituted a broad array of new standards for farms.

Board member and New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher in a prepared statement Thursday said he supported board chairperson Brenda McDuffie’s position of delaying a decision.

“I had encouraged giving the process more time to fully evaluate what a lower threshold would mean for all involved, especially with such limited data from this challenging year,” Fisher said in a prepared statement. “I’d like to thank my fellow wage board members for their time and professionalism and encourage the Department of Labor to continue to work with the farming community to do what is best for our farms and employees. We need each other for agricultural production and our rural economies to flourish.”

Former New York American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations President Denis Hughes, the third board member, argued on Monday that other industries already function with similar labor standards and the board could theoretically recommend to institute a 40-hour threshold over time.

State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said he supported the delay in a Thursday statement.

“(Thursday’s) decision by the Department of Labor’s Farm Laborer Wage Board to maintain the 60 hour overtime threshold until at least next November is welcome news for farmers, farmworkers, and consumers across New York who have suffered greatly during this pandemic,” Ortt said in a prepared statement. “Recent legislative action from Albany Democrats has already added significant new burdens to ailing family farms across our state. The last thing these farms needed were new costs that would drive more of our agriculture industry out of business.”

State Assembly Minority Leader William A. Barclay, R-Pulaski, also issued a statement of praise about the decision Thursday, saying the threshold “threatened to over-regulate New York’s family farms out of existence.”

“Fortunately, the Wage Board acted prudently in its decision to preserve the current threshold for the time being. This is welcome news for farmers across New York — at least in the short term,” Barclay said. “Moving forward, we must keep in mind that the past year has been one of the most difficult for the agricultural industry, which was especially ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a time when we should be working to facilitate economic recovery and avoid putting unnecessary financial pressures onto the backs of New York’s farmers.”

Brenda McDuffie, Buffalo Urban League chief executive officer, seemed to suggest Monday that she would support a staggered implementation of moving the threshold down toward 40 hours.

“I’m really hopeful that we can move towards some of the actions that we need to take as a board to get to a place that we will have a recommendation that allows us to move forward in a way,” McDuffie said. “One of the things I read about … some sort of staggering of the timing on getting to the place that we want to get to in terms of number of hours that a person works before the overtime rules go into effect.”

Ortt indicated that Republicans are not interested in making any more changes to the overtime rule.

“While (Thursday’s) announcement is positive, the reality is our farms are still under great strain. The Senate Republican Conference believes a vibrant agriculture industry is critical to the economic success of our state. We urge Leaders in Albany to reject any new burdens on our family farms and work with our Conference to advance solutions that will help grow this critical part of our state’s economy,” he wrote.

Barclay echoed Ortt’s statement.

“The Assembly Minority Conference understands the reality thousands of farmers are facing,” he said. “We remain committed to developing measures that make New York’s agricultural industry more competitive, and provide critical relief to the state’s farms and local economies.”


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