The [New York State] proposal to reduce the 60-hour overtime-threshold [on farms to 40 hours] threatened to over-regulate New York’s family farms out of existence. Fortunately, the [state Department of Labor’s] 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.
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.
During hearings held in the summer, farmers testified that if the Wage Board had recommended another reduction, New York farms would likely face a level of financial distress they may never be able to overcome.
In order to stay solvent, some of these farms would be forced to lay off employees. This would further inhibit their recovery and put laborers out of work altogether. About 96 percent of farms in New York are family-owned and these farms are already reeling from the pandemic. A State Farm Bureau survey indicated that 43 percent of the state’s farms lost sales during the COVID-19 health crisis — and putting any more pressure on them would be ill-advised.
I applaud [this] decision by the Wage Board. Simply stated, the farms that provide goods and services here, and across the country, are on the brink of collapse.
The Assembly Minority Conference understands the reality thousands of farmers are facing. 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.
William (Will) A. Barclay, 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. Contact Barclay at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This column is drawn from a statement his office issued on Dec. 31, after the New York State Department of Labor Wage Board recommended delaying the move to lower the 60-hour farm labor overtime threshold until at least November. The column also includes excerpts from an opinion article by Barclay on this topic, which was published in the Sept. 14, 2020 issue of CNYBJ.