Farmers alarmed as NY seems at expanded extra time for employees

SCHUYLERVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — The 1000’s of individuals paid to plant corn, choose apples and milk cows in New York usually work lengthy days, six days every week — and earn extra time solely after 60 hours of labor.

New York took a giant step Friday towards reducing that threshold when a state board voted to suggest {that a} 40-hour extra time rule for farm employees be phased in over the following 10 years.

If the advice is accredited by the state labor commissioner, New York would be a part of California and Washington state in phasing in an extra time threshold frequent in different industries.

The vote by the three-member wage board capped a sequence of public hearings this month that heated up debate over compensation for agricultural employees in New York, many from Mexico, Guatemala and different international international locations.

“We’d like a greater high quality of life,” veteran dairy employee Lazaro Alvarez stated this week. He’s amongst those that say the change is lengthy overdue for an estimated 55,000 agricultural employees in New York.

However the prospect is alarming farmers. They warn the additional prices would wipe out marginal farms, hobble others and truly scale back employees’ earnings if farmers cap hours to handle bills.

“Whereas the business total could survive, many particular person farms won’t,” Chris Laughton of Farm Credit score East, a lender for the agriculture business within the Northeast, testified this month.

At Welcome Inventory Farm close to Saratoga Springs, Invoice Peck stated extra time after 40 hours for the farm’s 18 full-time workers would price him as much as an additional $12,000 a month. Dairy farmers like Peck say they can’t merely elevate costs to mirror added bills, since wholesale milk costs are regulated.

“We aren’t going to have the ability to spend money on a brand new tractor. We aren’t going to have the ability to spend money on including one other barn,” stated Peck. “That cash goes to go simply into payroll, so which is nice for them within the brief time period, however long run the enterprise can’t survive.”

Crop farmers who develop greens and apples say they’d be notably exhausting hit when additional seasonal labor is required. They are saying increased extra time prices will make them much less aggressive with farms in different states.

Farm employees in New York didn’t qualify for extra time pay in any respect till 2020, when the state modified the regulation to mandate additional pay for employees who exceeded 60 hours every week. The brand new regulation additionally instructed the wage board to contemplate whether or not to suggest a decrease threshold.

The board voted Friday to decrease the farm threshold by 4 hours each different yr, beginning with extra time after 56 hours on or after Jan. 1, 2024.

Farmworkers would be capable of earn extra time after 40 hours in 2032 below the advice. The board nonetheless must make a proper suggestion to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s labor commissioner, who can settle for, reject or modify them.

“We did one thing very historic at the moment,” stated board chairperson Brenda McDuffie.

The suggestions had been accredited in a sequence of 2-1 votes, with member David Fisher, representing the New York Farm Bureau, opposing them.

Common hourly wages for agricultural employees within the area final yr had been $16.16, in response to federal figures, although some earn the minimal wage of $13.20.

Alvarez, 63, of Mexico Metropolis, stated extra time after 40 hours would scale back stress for employees like himself and provides them a greater high quality of life.

“I will have checkups on the physician, I will purchase private gadgets. I’ll have time for me,” Alvarez stated in Spanish.

California has already been reducing farm extra time ranges in phases over a number of years. Bigger farms in California needed to start offering extra time after 40 hours beginning this yr. Farms with 25 or fewer workers will hit the 40-hour mark in 2025.

Washington approved a law final yr phasing in extra time pay for agricultural employees.

A number of different states provide some farm employees extra time, with limitations and exceptions. Trent Taylor, an lawyer with the advocacy group Farmworker Justice, stated extra states are contemplating the proposals because the nation grapples extra with labor and racial points.

“We’re gaining momentum,” Taylor stated.

Nationally, farm employees had been excluded from the extra time provisions of the landmark 1938 Honest Labor Requirements Act. On the time, the U.S. was solely 73 years faraway from outlawing slavery. Advocates say persevering with to go away them out perpetuates an injustice towards a career lengthy dominated by individuals of colour.

“This exclusion of farm employees is the very definition of what we name structural racism. It was a coverage rooted in racism 85 years in the past and has turn out to be so baked into the system that folks don’t even understand it anymore,” stated Lisa Zucker, an lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Farmers argue that the well-meaning coverage wouldn’t be in the very best pursuits of the various migrant employees who come north throughout harvest seasons to make as a lot cash as doable, usually to ship again house. That’s as a result of they could possibly be pressured to restrict hours to mitigate extra time bills.

“Hours will go down and there shall be much less web pay for individuals,” stated Mark Russell, of Two of Golf equipment Orchard in western New York. Farmers are nervous about shedding employees to different states, he stated.

A number of farm employees made comparable arguments in testimony this month.

Although hiring extra workers is a typical technique for lowering extra time prices, farmers say the labor market is tight and hiring employees would require farmers to spend money on extra housing. Farms routinely present free housing to employees.

Employee advocates dismiss farmers’ dire predictions, noting that different industries have tailored to extra time and that New York farms have already tailored to increased minimal wages and 60-hour extra time.

“If there’s one lesson to glean from this pandemic, it’s that those that compromise their well being, security and well-being to maintain our important industries going deserve dignity and respect,” Emma Kreyche of the Employee Justice Heart testified not too long ago.


Related Press author Claudia Torrens in New York Metropolis contributed to this report.


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