Future of overtime threshold in New York unclear; Farmers hope it will stay 60 hours

New England

HUDSON FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York State farmers are anxiously waiting to hear from the Department of Labor about whether they will move forward with lowering the overtime threshold to 40 hours. Many say this would seriously threaten the livelihood of farms across the state.

The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act established the 60-hour overtime threshold in 2019.

John Dickinson, a Senior Partner at the multi-generational Ideal Dairy Farms in Hudson Falls said it’s his hardworking, current employees who would suffer most if the overtime threshold is lowered down to 40 hours, a potential change that is under review by a state wage board.

“We’re going to have to hire more people, and all that’s going to do is hurt the people that we’ve got,” said Dickinson.

According to Richard Stup, an Agricultural Workforce Specialist at Cornell University, that option presents its own challenges.

“Agriculture has struggled to find workers for many years. For decades, even,” Stup explained. “So farmers’ ability to find even more workers in a tight labor market is probably quite limited.”

A new report by Cornell looked at the potential effects of a 40-hour overtime threshold for different types of farms. Of the dairy farms surveyed, two-thirds said they would have to move out of milk production, invest in other products, exit agriculture entirely, or redirect their investment to other states.

Since dairy products are priced on a national level, additional costs can’t be redirected to consumers, explained Crystal Grimaldi, a Junior Partner at Ideal Dairy Farms.

“For dairy to have increased costs, in New York particularly, when they may not be getting a price that’s any higher than somebody in the surrounding states, it’s a very big challenge for the dairy [producer] to say, ‘okay, it’s still going to be able to be sustainable in New York State.’”

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded other states who have decided to require overtime pay after 40 hours, writing on its website that “anything less perpetuates the unconscionable race-based exclusions put in place generations ago and is an insult to the New Yorkers who have worked day in and day out, often at great personal risk, to keep food on our plates during these extremely trying times.”

The decision for New York is in the hands the wage board. Dickinson said communication has been lacking since the Department of Labor issued a letter in February saying it would meet on the issue by December 15.

According to the labor department, a virtual hearing on the overtime work threshold for farm laborers in New York State will take place January 4, 2022, at 3:30 PM. Two other hearings are scheduled to follow.

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