A pair of Niagara County’s state legislative delegates are ramping up their efforts to convince the state labor commissioner to reject a recommendation that the overtime threshold for farm workers be cut back to 40 hours a week.
While state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, released a copy of a letter to Commissioner Roberta Reardon from 19 senators warning the move would cause harm to both farms and farm laborers, Assembly Member Mike Norris, R-Lockport, penned an op-ed piece encouraging constituents to share their own thoughts on the issue with Reardon before she acts.
The state Farm Laborers Wage Board on Sept. 6 voted 2-1 to recommend reducing the overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours by the year 2032. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration has 45 days to adopt or reject the recommendation.
Industry leaders have said a lower overtime threshold would force farm operators to limit their laborers’ work week to 40 hours, and crop losses and ruined family businesses would be the likely results.
The senators’ Sept. 21-dated letter to Reardon cites a state-funded report by Cornell University that found half or more of dairy, fruit and vegetable farmers in New York would cut back operations and/or leave the industry if the overtime threshold is reduced, and also found about 70% of H-2A (temporary, non-citizen) workers would consider going to another state without “capped” hours.
“The Wage Board’s decision to lower the overtime threshold will hurt the very people it was intended to help — farmworkers — by restricting the number of hours they can work, meaning smaller paychecks,” the senators wrote.
Citing rising food prices and sharply increased costs of inputs such as fertilizer, their letter further warned, “Doing anything that may increase the price of our food, or impact the stability of the food supply-chain (which we learned during COVID just how fragile it is) ... would be extremely irresponsible.”
Norris’ op-ed conveys a similar message and encourages readers to share their own views with the labor department by email to firstname.lastname@example.org ; or a letter mailed to New York State Department of Labor, W. Averill Harriman State Office Campus, Building 12, Room 509, Albany, NY 12240.
“Though the state was required to publish notice of this public comment period in at least 10 newspapers in the state, they could have done more to get the word out. That’s why I want to make sure constituents of the 144th Assembly District are aware and have a chance to have their voices heard. (Reardon) will make a determination in October,” Norris wrote.
Jeanette Miller, president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, echoed the state representatives’ message about the irony of the overtime recommendation. The Farm Laborers Wage Board sounds worker friendly in name, but it’s the opposite in reality, she said.
Farm workers “want to work for the season, a few months, and bring back money to their families. They want to work and work substantial hours,” Miller said. “Politicians’ staffers work 80-a-week during election season. Why can’t farmworkers? It’s not acceptable.”