The following letter to the editor was originally published on September 12, 2022. The article…
LONG ISLAND, NY – Today, Long Island Farm Bureau representatives and coalition members from Grow NY Farms met with state officials and local farmers to discuss the imminent Wage Board decision that threatens to decrease the overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 for farmworkers. The event at Deer Run Farms in Brookhaven, New York served as a continuation of Grow NY Farms’ statewide campaign to bring awareness to the detrimental impact a lower threshold would have on the agriculture community and future of New York State’s production.
The Long Island Farm Bureau represents more than 600 farms with annual sales totaling approximately $225 million, a significant boost to the local economy.
Officials joined farmers and farmworkers who will be directly affected by this change to better understand the real implications of lowering the threshold. The overtime threshold was determined by the 2019 Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act and will be revisited later this year for evaluation and potential decrease.
“Unlike other more traditional industries that can follow a 40-hour work week, farming is completely different and must be treated so. Farming will always be dependent on seasonal fluctuations and unpredictable weather requiring flexibility in caring for our crops — things that are outside of the farmers’ control. The Wage Board must take into consideration the unique nature of farming as they review the 60-hour statute and look at the facts. New York State relies on farms to put food on our tables, and for us to continue our voices must be considered. Leave the overtime threshold as is,” said Rob Carpenter, Executive Director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.
“Working a farm that produces a variety of fruits and vegetables demands tremendous time, skill and effort. Without the work, our business cannot continue. It is as simple as that. Together, we show up every day to get the job done. However, the reality is that a lower overtime threshold will expedite hardships within our industry, ultimately leading to its collapse. New York farms cannot withstand another blow. We are at a tipping point. State officials must consider the real consequences for farms and the surrounding communities if the threshold is lowered further. Our future, and the future of countless farms, is in their hands,” said Bob Nolan, owner of Deer Run Farms who donated food to emergency pantries in New York City during the pandemic. During the press event he said he would have to drastically cut back on the crops he grows, cutting him out of the wholesale markets.
“Farming is the backbone of our economy in eastern Suffolk. In fact, we are one of the largest agricultural communities in the state. Our farmers and winemakers are struggling to keep their industries afloat during these difficult economic times. The last thing they need right now is to be hit with another burden from the state. It is critically important that we work hand in hand with our farm community to ensure that any proposed changes will improve the industry, and not put our farmers out of business and employees out of work,” said State Senator Anthony Palumbo.
“With the current state of the economy, inflation, supply chain disruptions, and the fact that New Yorkers are among the highest taxed and over-regulated in the nation, our farmers are under enormous pressure to stay afloat. These are the people who grow our food and serve as an essential part of our economy. We should not make it even more difficult on them by imposing unreasonable wage requirements,” said Assemblymember Jodi Giglio.
In October, leading agriculture institute Farm Credit East, issued a report finding that a 40-hour overtime threshold will ultimately crush the agriculture sector in New York State, with impacts extending beyond industry to local community. The potential increased labor costs combined with past and scheduled increases in the minimum wage would impact the financial viability of many farms by significantly increasing costs, reducing net farm income and cash flow. 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%. The industry could not survive with that.
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. The lowering of the threshold to 60-hours served as a compromise, finding a workable solution for farmers and farmworkers. Anything below 60-hours would render that compromise a sham.
As some agricultural work is seasonal, many farmworkers still seek to work as many hours as possible when the work is available. A further reduction of the overtime threshold will reduce their already limited opportunity to work. Moreover, any reduction threatens farmers’ ability to afford workers during the peak season and consequently the ability to operate these farms at all. The workers who want more hours will simply go to other states — like Michigan, Ohio or Pennsylvania — where they can work more and make more.
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 https://grownyfarms.com/.