GHENT—New York State farm workers will be eligible for overtime pay (OT) after 40 hours.
The current OT threshold is 60 hours. The lower OT threshold starts next year and will be phased in over a 10-year period. The threshold will be lowered by 2 hours every other year.
State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon announced two weeks ago that Governor Kathy Hochul had signed off on recommendations made last year by the state’s Farm Laborers Wage Board. The changes align farm workers with all other labor sectors in New York regarding hourly wage compensation. “These new regulations ensure equity for farm workers . . . the very backbone of our agriculture sector,” said Commissioner Reardon.
The legislature created the wage board in 2019.
A diverse coalition of labor unions, immigrant and social justice advocates as well as religious and civil rights service organizations have lobbied for 80 years for the work rule changes as wage protection and healthcare issues.
Opponents, including the NY Farm Bureau and the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, claimed that the state’s agriculture industry would take a significant hit, resulting in less fresh food available to New Yorkers. Critics also warned that farm workers ultimately would lose money because small family farms, especially, would be unable to absorb the additional costs of overtime pay and would be compelled to close.
But a Times Union article published February 23, 2023 reported that the Farm Bureau did not offer or seek any changes, such as exceptions for certain types of farms, to the proposed new regulations.
State Senator Michele Hinchey (D-41st), an advocate for a lower OT threshold, noted that the legislature created a new Farm Employer Overtime Credit, which covers 118% of the total cost of overtime. In a September 2022 press release, Sen. Hinchey stated that an advance payment for upfront costs would be available through the state Department of Agriculture & Markets. “I am committed to making it as easy as possible for this money to get out the door and into the hands of New York farmers.”
‘These new regulations ensure equity for farm workers .…’
Commissioner Roberta Reardon
State Department of Labor
There are approximately 1,500 farm workers in Sen. Hinchey’s district, which includes all of Columbia County. According to the Mint Salary website, run by Intuit Financial Services, farm worker pay in Columbia County averages $22,500 annually, less than the statewide average of $39,137.
The state has not tracked farm workers’ overtime labor, but Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo’s office reported last year, “speculation [is] the amount would be $240 million over a 4-year period.” Assemblywoman Lupardo (D-123rd) is chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee.
Kinderhook dairy farmer Eric Ooms, who is also vice president of the Farm Bureau, does not think the OT changes will be as dire as predicted. He noted other factors that have greater impact on farmers’ expenses, including costs for seed, fuel and fertilizer. In an interview last October with The Columbia Paper Mr. Ooms also identified the federal H2A program, which allows foreign nationals to work on U.S. farms as another stress factor on labor costs. He said H2A workers, generally, are paid more and their wage is “guaranteed.”
Mr. Ooms also noted other options for farmers. Citing his own operation he said, “Instead of milking more cows, [we] added robotic milking machines, which equal one person.” He added that he likely would grow more corn, a “less labor-intensive” crop. In addition Mr. Ooms speculated that farms likely would adopt Walmart and Amazon business models for entry level/minimum skill jobs in order to avoid overtime.
At the time, he identified vegetable and fruit growers as well as dairies as most likely to be impacted by overtime changes. He estimated that labor accounts for 50-60% of costs for vegetable and fruit growers and 20% for dairies.