Farmers, workers brace for state decision on overtime hours

Farm worker
Farm worker(WWNY)
Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 1:44 PM EST
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BELLEVILLE, New York (WWNY) - Next week, the state wage board has a big decision to make on overtime hours that could run many farms and workers out of New York.

Farming isn’t exactly a 9-to-5 job. Most workers put in more than 40 hours a week, especially during harvest season.

They earn a normal rate until they reach 60 hours. That’s when overtime pay kicks in.

But some state leaders want to lower that threshold to 40 hours a week.

Farmers say it’s a bad idea.

“It’s estimated to be a 17 percent increase in labor costs if we were to change from 60 to 40. In ag, we can’t just raise the price we get for our milk and crops we sell to offset what our expenses are,” said Devon Shelmidine, Sheland Farms co-owner.

Farmers would have to cap workers at 40 hours to avoid paying overtime. It’s a loss for workers who depend on extra hours.

“This is an issue that’s gonna have much bigger impacts than many people realize. (According to a recent report from Cornell University), two-thirds of dairy farms said they would either move out of New York state or get our of dairy altogether. Half of fruit and vegetable farms indicated they would shrink operations or also leave farming. Where does that leave our food supply? And workers, nearly three-quarters said they’d be less likely to stay in New York and work on farms if their hours are capped at 40,” said Steve Ammerman, NY Farm Bureau spokesperson.

Plus, if workers don’t have the time to milk cows, the animals get sick. If workers don’t harvest crops, they’ll rot.

<Devon: There will be farms that go out of business if it’s changed from 60 to 40.>

The three-person wage board has until December 15 to decide what to do.

Farmers beg they keep the current model.

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