The following letter to the editor was originally published on September 12, 2022. The article…
ALBANY,NY—Today, local farmers and farmworkers from across New York State warned state officials and all New Yorkers this Thanksgiving risks being the last with diverse and abundant locally grown New York products that we’ve all come to love. An imminent State Wage Board meeting will decide whether the overtime threshold for farmworkers will be further reduced to 40 hours, threatening access to the local produce that fills our Thanksgiving tables.
A recent report by industry expert Farm Credit East forecasts a gloomy economic future for New York farms if the threshold is lowered from 60 hours to 40, with impacts extending into local communities. And key findings estimate mandatory overtime pay at the 40-hour threshold for agricultural employees in New York State would result in increased agricultural labor costs of approximately $264 million per year, an increase of 42%. Many New York farms will not survive and the industry risks ultimate collapse.
Farms will be forced to switch to less labor-intensive crops, like corn or soybeans, or cease operations all together, causing farmworkers to lose work and turn to neighboring states that don’t restrict their hours. The Grow NY Farms coalition has been sounding the alarm around New York State and urges the wage board to listen to farmworkers and farmers and maintain the 60-hour overtime threshold.
Comprised of more than 33,500 farms, New York is a leading producer of cottage cheese, apples, cabbage, milk, grapes, wine, maple syrup and cauliflower. In fact, each year New York farms produce*:
· 1.385 billion pounds of apples
· 15 billion pounds of milk
· 561.6 million pounds of cabbage
· 287.5 million pounds of sweet corn
· 9.9 million pounds of tart cherries
· 70 million pounds of pumpkins
*According to the USDA 2020 State Agriculture Overview
On top of that, farming is a boon to the economy. The total economic contribution of agriculture to the state, measured as direct sales, indirect backward linkages, and induced effects from direct sales, is $65.2 billion, approximately 2.5% of the state’s total sales. In addition, farming in the state supports 269,683 jobs—163,148 jobs were direct employment and 106,535 jobs are generated indirectly or through induced effects. This represents approximately 2.1% of the state’s employment based on a 2019 study from the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell.
“The Thanksgiving holiday serves as a time to reflect and give thanks for the bountiful harvest New Yorkers come to expect each year. This year, New York State must not take for granted local access to fresh food that is provided yearly by farms across the state. My farm, and farms just like it, have been putting food on tables for generations. I hope I am able continue to do so for many years to come and my children are afforded the same opportunity. However, if the overtime threshold is lowered, our family will be faced with some very tough decisions that will ultimately impact how we continue our business. We want to continue to work hard and feed New Yorkers, but if the Wage Board lowers the overtime threshold, they will essentially be making the decision for many farms like us,” said Jason Turek of Turek Farms in Cayuga County.
“The holiday season is always a busy and fulfilling time of the year for our farm. However, this season that we look forward to, could be gone forever. Lowering the threshold to 40 hours would economically devastate our diverse agriculture community. Next Thanksgiving, tables won’t be filled with New York-grown products, but instead apples from Washington and dairy products from Wisconsin. It’s unsettling knowing that next year we may be facing a very different harvest and holiday season. The wage board must uphold the 60-hour threshold for farmworkers and support New York’s agriculture community for a future worth being thankful for,” said Mark Henry of WD Henry and Sons in Erie County.
“As families gather around their tables this week, I urge them to take stock of the bountiful meal they are enjoying and fresh products from New York farms. Fall harvest is one of the busiest times of year for our farm but this may be the last time we are able to meet demand. A lowered overtime threshold would force us to make significant cutbacks just to keep our doors open. New York State must realize that a lowered overtime threshold will only mean harm to farmers and farmworkers, who depend on adequate hours to plant and harvest our vegetable crops on time and maximize farmworker earnings,” said Eric Hansen of Hansen Farms in Ontario County.
Locally owned farms grow and produce the food that feed families across New York. Economic constraints resulting from a lowered overtime threshold will be directly felt by the consumer and surrounding local community. Farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants and essential programs like Nourish New York will be forced to turn to out-of-state farms to continue operations.
Prior to the adoption of the 60-hour overtime threshold, the industry standard for farmworkers was 80 hours during peak seasons. This practice reflected the fact that the agricultural industry includes labor-intensive periods during harvests and for the constant care of animals. In 2019, the lowering of the threshold to 60-hours served as a compromise, finding a workable solution for farmers and farmworkers. Lowering the overtime threshold below 60 hours disregards the compromise, forcing farmers who negotiated in good faith to fight for their industry’s survival once again.
In the coming weeks, the New York State Wage Board will revisit the 2019 Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act’s 60-hour overtime threshold for farmworkers and determine if an adjustment to 40 hours will be necessary. For more information on the group’s efforts, please visit Support New York Farms – Grow NY Farms.