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The following Watertown Daily Times editorial was originally published on August 25, 2022.

Like everyone else, farmers throughout New York have felt the pain of inflation.

This has made the idea of lowering the overtime threshold for farm workers more critical. Those who own farms have struggled to adjust to the rules placing this level at 60 hours. The higher prices they must pay to operate their businesses due to inflation will be exacerbated by a mandate to start overtime at 40 hours rather than 60.

The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which took effect in 2020, set the threshold at 60 hours. This law also established a Farm Workers Wage Board to assess if this arrangement was succeeding or if it needed to be adjusted.

As anticipated, members of the Farm Workers Wage Board ignored what farmers told them about the challenges they are confronting with the overtime threshold set at 60 hours. After holding hearings throughout the state, the board in January recommended that laborers should begin receiving overtime once they have worked 40 hours.

Members of the board will meet Sept. 6 to advance the report they developed in January. Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon will then have 45 days to either accept or reject the board’s recommendation.

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul has suggested that farmers be offered a tax deduction to help compensate them for the additional money they’ll need to pay due to the lower overtime threshold. While this sounds intriguing, this is bound to fail.

First of all, this proposal would require approval by the state Legislature. Are there enough Democratic lawmakers (who control both the state Assembly and Senate) to actually pass a tax cut?

Secondly, there would be a significant delay of time in when the farmers pay the overtime and when they may deduct this amount from their taxes. They wouldn’t be able to claim this deduction until the following tax year, so the issue is if they can hang on the first year that they lose this revenue.

Finally, Hochul’s suggestion demonstrates she knows that lowering the overtime threshold is a plan the farmers cannot afford. Ultimately, this would make all New York taxpayers responsible for subsidizing higher overtime pay for farm workers. Does this make any sense?

We join the Farm Workers Wage Board and other state officials in asserting that labors must be treated fairly. Some of the provisions of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act did just this, and we commend legislators for approving these measures.

However, it’s not a good idea to force farmers into a situation they cannot weather. Their industry is different from the retail business in that they lack the ability to pass their increased costs on to their customers.

The prices for farm goods are set in the commodities market based on the trends of supply and demand. Farmers cannot insist on higher prices for their items; they must accept what the market offers them.

This begs the question of where farmers will obtain the additional revenue they need to pay increased overtime wages. No one has come up with a good answer for this.

So until they do, state officials need to halt any move to set the overtime threshold at 40 hours. Many farms in New York will likely fail if their expenses are increased so dramatically, and closed farms won’t benefit workers or farmers. Hochul and Reardon must turn this proposal down.

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