For nearly two years, my colleagues in the Assembly Minority Conference and I have been imploring the Farm Laborers Wage Board to keep the overtime threshold for farm workers at 60 hours per week. With the board set to make its recommendations to Gov. Kathy Hochul next month, I am calling on the governor, once again, to wholly reject the board’s plan to reduce the threshold to 40 hours.
Despite numerous public hearings, hours of testimony by farmers — those with firsthand knowledge of the disastrous implications that reducing the overtime threshold could have on the industry — and feedback from other experts in the field, recent reports indicate Gov. Hochul is prepared to accept the board’s recommendations, due in September. The 2022-23 New York State Budget, passed in April, included tax credits for farmers to help offset higher labor costs. One could ask, “Was it the state’s plan to increase the threshold all along, regardless of the feedback the Wage Board received?”
Already a struggling industry, New York’s agriculture sector lost more than 2,000 farms from 2012-2017, according to 2019 USDA Census data. Still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s growers are also struggling with supply chain and labor shortages and even more recently, rising fuel and supply costs. Now is not the time to put more strain on New York’s farmers.
As family farms across the state are trying to stay afloat, keep their costs low and remain competitive, many fear they will have to relocate to another state if New York adopts the board’s capped overtime hours. Food for thought — New York state is home to about 30,000 farms that produce fruits, vegetables, milk ,and other dairy products for local farm stands and grocery stores, schools, and national retailers. The state’s agricultural industry — generating about $5.3 billion annually — is the lifeblood of many upstate communities and the board’s proposal could have irreparable, devastating ramifications.
Simply put, reducing the farm-overtime threshold to 40 hours a week would be irresponsible. To preserve our state’s family farms — many of which have been operational for generations — I am again calling on the governor and the state labor commissioner to do right by these hardworking men and women, and reject the Wage Board’s recommendations, keep the overtime threshold at 60 hours, and save the state’s agriculture industry. After all, no farms, no food.
William (Will) A. Barclay, 53, Republican, is the New York Assembly minority leader and represents the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses most of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton, as well as the town of Lysander in Onondaga County and town of Ellisburg in Jefferson County.