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Lowering the overtime threshold for farmers, could it backfire?

Published: Nov. 14, 2021 at 4:26 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - It’s a fight to keep farmers in the state.

New York allows farmers to work 60 hours a week before reaching the overtime pay threshold. But the state wage board is considering lowering that threshold to 40 hours, which is normal in most lines of business.

The idea is to pay farmworkers more. But state officials say the decision could backfire.

“I’ve heard from many, many employees that they just can’t afford to stay in New York if this threshold is lowered. They will leave,” said Assemblyman Billy Jones of the 115th Assembly District.

Assemblyman Jones was speaking at a rally of farmworkers in Peru, New York earlier this week. Jones says the producers won’t be able to afford to pay their employees that much overtime pay. And the employees know it.

“They’re going to go to another state that doesn’t have these regulations,” said Senator Dan Stec of the 45th Senate District.

Stec also points to temporary H-2A workers. He says New York will lose out on the foreign workforce.

“We are going to be chasing the people that are willing to do the difficult work of farming away to other states that don’t have this threshold,” said Stec.

A report by Farm Credit East claims that lowering the overtime threshold to 40 hours would raise the labor costs about $264 million per year across the state. That’s about a 42% increase.

Senator Stec says the ripple effects could cause the price of local products to skyrocket.

“There’s going to be a crate of New York apples and a crate of Washington apples. And the New York apples - they may taste a lot better than Washington apples, but they cost twice as much as a Washington apple, you’re going to have a lot more Washington apples being bought and sold in Washington state,” said Stec.

The New York State Wage Board will discuss the issue more later this year.

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