The New York Farmers Wage Board has approved a bill that would reduce the number of hours that farm workers must put in before they have to be paid overtime.
Workers will be paid overtime after 40 hours instead of the current 60 hours, which allows them to maximize the hours they can work in peak seasons.
Sam Dyer, owner of Shields Vegetables, a farm that has been in his family for over 70 years, says the reduction of hours will hurt his business by increasing the cost of goods that have already skyrocketed.
“It’s not going to put money in the pockets of workers,” said Dyer. “It’s actually going to take money out of their pockets because people are going to have to bring in more workers. It’s a trickle down effect — we’re going to see it in the increase in the price of a product.”
Dyer says he doesn’t expect people to work 15 hours a day, but when there is no rain, they need as much time as possible to get their crops picked. Dyer’s farm employs two full-time people and he says he may have to consider bringing in a third employee to combat the overtime issue and tell his current employees he needs to cut their hours.
He also believes the bill doesn’t take into consideration the vulnerable timeline farms are under to ensure they can have the highest quality products.
“If you don’t harvest it, it’s no good,” Dyer said. “A lot of these products have to move, and there’s a shelf-life. With vegetables, you’ve gotta have a continual crop, and if you don’t have a continual crop, you don’t have a market. It’s going to be harder to get the job done, and there’s going to be less product on the market.”
The issue is also getting the attention of elected officials, who have all shared their discontent with the bill. Statements from U.S Rep. Elise Stefanik and her challenger, Matt Castelli, highlights what they say is the bill’s failure take into consideration the fact that farmers need to maximize hours during growing season.
Assemblyman Billy Jones and State Sen. Dan Stec have echoed concners that the new threshold will only increase the price of goods in an industry that is already struggling.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul said it will benefit agriculture in New York by giving farmers in the state a competitive edge by attracting more workers.
The New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon has 45 days to review and decide on the reduction. If she approves it, the reduction will be phased in over a 10 year period, starting in 2024.