Farmers worry about effect of new overtime rules

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 6:21 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - With changes coming for farmworker overtime, north country farmers worry about what’s ahead and how it will work.

“Milk, bread, cereal, grain; it doesn’t just show up on the grocery store shelf,” said Scott Zehr, owner of Maplewood Suites.

“In my opinion, in New York state, food is going to have to get more expensive, or become more scarce, or come from outside of the state,” said Devon Shelmidine, president, Jefferson County Farm Bureau.

These concerns from north country farmers as the state begins the rollout of new overtime rules on the farm.

The reduction from 60 hours a week to 40 starts in 2024.

It continues until 2034, each year reducing the minimum number of hours to qualify for overtime by 4, with 56 hours being the magic number to start. The number will continue to be reduced until 2034 with anything over 40 hours qualifying for overtime.

“As the cost of production increases, dairy and grain farmers have no ability, no recourse to raise the price of the product that they produce for us,” said Zehr.

To control costs, some farmers may find ways to get the work done without workers.

“Instead of hiring two to three people to go actually physically into the woods to check for leaks in tubing operations, I can have remote sensors that sync with my smartphone and do all that work for me,” said Zehr.

“You’re also going to see other farms that invest in technology and automation like robots and upgrade facilities to be more labor efficient, and to use less labor,” said Shelmidine.

Shelmidine says that the timing of the decision couldn’t be worse. Along with the overtime reduction, minimum wage is also being increased by a dollar. All of these changes come during an already existing shortage of farm workers.