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NEW YORK STATE

Board to consider lower overtime threshold for farmworkers

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A three-member wage board is holding meetings across the state and will make recommendations regarding the overtime threshold for farm workers in New York.

The board, which consists of New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, former New York State AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes and Buffalo Urban League President Brenda McDuffie, will hold five meetings across the state. The first was Friday in Albany.

The wage board is part of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act that was approved by the state Legislature in 2019 and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Beginning Jan. 1, the law extends labor rights, such as collective bargaining, to farmworkers.

Another provision sets a 60-hour overtime standard for farm laborers. Before the law took effect, there wasn't an overtime threshold for farm employees. But it could be lowered if the wage board makes that recommendation.

The scope of the wage board's work will focus on whether the overtime threshold should be lower than 60 hours per week and "whether any such reductions should be phased in through a series of successively lower thresholds," according to the state Department of Labor.

If the wage board recommends that a lower overtime threshold should be phased in over several years, it would be comparable to how California is adopting overtime pay for farm laborers.

This year, farms in California with more than 25 employees will pay overtime after 9 hours of work in a day and 50 hours per week. In 2021, the overtime thresholds will be 8 1/2 hours in a day and 45 hours a week. The law will be fully phased in in 2022 when overtime will be paid after eight hours of work in a day and a 40-hour workweek.

There is a longer phase-in period for small California farms. Farms with less than 25 employees will pay overtime for more than 9 1/2 hours of work in a day and over 55 hours in a week beginning in January 2022.

In January 2025, small farms will be required to pay overtime to laborers who work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours per week.

In a statement prior to the first wage board meeting, the New York Farm Bureau expressed concern that it will be difficult for its members to determine "if the overtime threshold should be justifiably lowered."

"Farmers have just started to implement changes on their farms to comply with the new law and are still determining what is best for their small businesses and employees," the group said. "Further, crops are not even in the ground for the spring planting season, let alone having no real-world examples of how this new law will impact harvest season."

The farm bureau believes information from multiple growing seasons must be collected to evaluate the overtime threshold. Until that happens, the bureau continued, it should not be lowered.

The law in New York required the three-member wage board to have representation from the AFL-CIO and New York Farm Bureau. A third member — McDuffie — was appointed by state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. As Reardon's appointee, McDuffie will chair the wage board.

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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