ALBANY. N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Friday, the New York State Farm Laborer Wage Board took a giant leap in recommending a reduction in the number of hours farm workers need to work before clocking overtime. Farmers often work long hours just to put food on their table and ours.

“No farms, no food, and a law like this are going to put a lot of farmers out of business,” says New York State Assemblyman Chris Tague (R, C, I-Schoharie).

A 2019 law required that the overtime threshold be lowered to 60 hours a week from 80. This went into effect in 2020. Now, with a recommendation from the Farm Laborer Wage Board, over the next ten years, that threshold will be reduced to 40.

“I think our recommendations are based on the best outcome. There are no winners or losers,” says Wage Board Chair Brenda McDuffie.

Assemblyman Tague, a former dairy farmer himself, says there are clear losers, and it is the farm owners, saying this new rule will leave a lot of fields unattended. “You know, some of these folks want to work as many hours as they possibly can,” Tague explains, “the problem is and this is what people don’t understand, if this law goes into effect, they’re (farm owners) not going to allow their employees to work over 40 hours a week because they can’t afford to pay them overtime.”  

Tague says another concern of his is farmworkers leaving New York State for jobs elsewhere, where overtime hours are not restricted. “I don’t think they (farm workers) will be laid off, I think what they’ll do is they’ll move to other states where there are no overtime laws. If they can make $1,000 a week moving to Connecticut, New Hampshire, or Ohio or even Pennsylvania, if they’re gonna make a couple of hundred dollars more a week, then they’re just going to go to other state’s and it’s going to hurt our labor force.”

The 2-1 decision by the board agrees to lower the hourly threshold by four hours per week every two years beginning in 2024. Farmworkers would be able to earn overtime in 2032 under the recommendation. However, before all is said and done, the board must formally present its proposal before the labor commissioner.

A report by Cornell University looked at the potential effects of a 40-hour overtime threshold for different types of farms. Of the dairy farms surveyed, two-thirds said they would have to move out of milk production, invest in other products, exit agriculture entirely, or redirect their investment to other states.

Since dairy products are priced on a national level, additional costs can’t be redirected to consumers, explained Crystal Grimaldi, a Junior Partner at Ideal Dairy Farms. “For dairy to have increased costs, in New York particularly, when they may not be getting a price that’s any higher than somebody in the surrounding states, it’s a very big challenge for the dairy [producer] to say, ‘okay, it’s still going to be able to be sustainable in New York State.’”

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded other states who have decided to require overtime pay after 40 hours, writing on its website that “anything less perpetuates the unconscionable race-based exclusions put in place generations ago and is an insult to the New Yorkers who have worked a day in and day out, often at great personal risk, to keep food on our plates during these extremely trying times.”