‘We are going to lose farms’: Farmers urge Hochul to keep current overtime threshold

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Farmers from across New York came together at the State Capital to implore Governor Hochul to leave the overtime threshold at 60 hours for farmworkers. 

The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act established the 60-hour threshold in 2019. Now a change to a 40 hour overtime threshold is under review by a NY state wage board after being pushed back due to the pandemic.

“There’s not enough profit or margins to be able to do that in the industry,” Peter TenEyck, Indian Ladder Farmers, said. “We are going to lose farms, first the small ones and then the bigger ones.”

Local farmers and lawmakers marched over 600 letters to the hands of the Governor’s executive assistant to plead their case and share their stories.

“When I was growing up on a dairy farm, there were ten farms on that road,” North Country Assemblyman Billy Jones said. “You know how many there are left today? One.”

Many farmers claimed that with the 40-hour overtime threshold, workers would jump ship to other states to work the hours they expect from the industry. 

“So one thing about farmers that’s also different is, it’s our life. Literally, it’s our way of life,” Tim Stanton, owner of Stanton Fuera Farm, said. “And because of that, family is such a big part of that.”

Alongside his son Nick and grandson Frankie, Tim expressed his concern for the possible policy change. He said he’s worried the threshold could spell the end of his family-run farm after more than 200 years in the Capital Region.

“People don’t believe us, but in a season, we’re working over a hundred hours a week,” Stanton said. “So, we’re not asking these people to do anything that we don’t do ourselves.”

In December, Stanton’s farm is primarily barren land but come July, the field will be full of sweet corn. Stanton said the seasonality of crops is the reason this change won’t work in New York State. 

“You make hay while the sun shines,” Assemblyman Jones said.

Many farmers at the press conference pointed to a lack of understanding of the agricultural industry in New York that has one growing season for an average of three months out of the year. The American Civil Liberties Union—ACLU—applauds other states who decided to require overtime pay after 40 hours. California will require the change starting 2022, and Washington will implement the policy in 2024.

For most NY farmers, overtime with a rest period is the norm because of the limited time frame to grow viable crops.

However, the ACLU disagrees. “Anything less perpetuates the unconscionable race-based exclusions put in place generations ago and is an insult to the New Yorkers who have worked day in and day out, often at great personal risk, to keep food on our plates during these extremely trying times,” a representative stated on the ACLU’s website.

The Farm Laborers Wage Board recommended that the Wage Board be reconvened no later than December 15, 2021.

“When we put a public policy in front of farms, we put us at risk,” Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner said.

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