Farmers: Overtime mandate would weaken NY agriculture | News, Sports, Jobs


ALBANY — As the 2021 season attracts to an in depth for Niagara County fruit grower Jim Bittner, he’s apprehensive his payroll prices might soar if somewhat recognized state panel decides to mandate that farmers pay their employees extra time all the time labored in every week in extra of 40 hours The present weekly extra time threshold for agricultural employees in New York is 60 hours. That was put in place two years in the past. Before then, New York farmworkers didn’t qualify for extra time, as workers in different industries do after working 40 hours.

No extra time

Bittner mentioned if the three-member state Farm Laborers Wage Board drops the extra time threshold to 40 hours and even 50 hours per week, the hassle to place extra pay within the pockets of farmworkers might boomerang, leaving these workers with fewer hours of labor and a discount in earnings.

“We would limit the number of hours we give to where the threshold is set,” mentioned the operator of Bittner-Singer Orchards in Appleton, noting his farm is in no place to soak up a rise in payroll prices.“We are just not going to pay overtime.”

The New York Farm Bureau and quite a few lawmakers representing upstate districts dotted with farm fields are bracing for hearings on the difficulty. They should be held by Dec.. 15, although they’ve but to be scheduled by state Labor Commissioner Rebecca Reardon.

The members of the panel are: Denis Hughes, former president of the state AFL-CIO, Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League; and David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau.

Doesn’t add up

They are anticipated to get an earful from each farmers and teams advocating for the rights of farmworkers.

Contacted at her Clinton County farm, Helen Giroux of Giroux Orchards in Chazy, mentioned about 200 employees from Jamaica, after qualifying for federal H2A agricultural visas, decide apples every season. The nature of crops, she mentioned, results in a compressed time frame to finish a harvest.

Apples, she famous, don’t mature on a schedule that meshes with anybody’s thought of the place the extra time threshold degree ought to be set.

“Unfortunately, the costs of business is going up with everything, and this would be another added cost for us,” Giroux mentioned. “And, to be honest, we don’t really see those returns at the other end.”

If there’s a soar in labor prices, she added, “That may mean that we refresh and replant fewer orchards next year.”

Provide important service

New York is one in all simply six states that present farm employees with extra time protection. California is slated to maneuver to a 40-hour threshold within the coming yr. The different states the place farmers qualify for extra time are Minnesota, Hawaii, Maryland and Washington.

Labor teams and immigrant advocates be aware state extra time exemptions for farmworkers are an outgrowth of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, They contend the exclusions had been hatched within the Jim Crow Era of racist legal guidelines and insurance policies and would not have continued if the vast majority of farmworkers weren’t Hispanic as they’re now, however Caucasian.

Ivy Hest, spokeswoman for the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, mentioned ending the carve-out that shields farms from paying extra time until employees put in extra of 60 hours in every week on the clock is a matter of financial justice.

“Farmworkers have proven throughout the pandemic that they continue to show up and provide an essential service, and it is unfair to treat them differently from other workers,” Hest mentioned. “What they do is hard, back-breaking labor, and to treat these workers differently doesn’t make sense.”

Unique trade

At the statehouse in Albany, farmers pushing towards a discount within the extra time threshold have drawn the backing of Republican lawmakers and a smattering of Democrats from rural areas, whereas the argument for a discount within the threshold has primarily been made by New York City space Democrats.

Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Otsego County, mentioned having economically viable farms is essential to the upstate financial system. He famous agriculture is a “unique industry” the place lengthy hours within the discipline at harvest and planting occasions are required.

Should the extra time threshold fall to 40 hours, Oberacker mentioned, “Some farms might just as well close up and go home” quite than dealing with a regulatory scheme that impedes their potential to show a revenue.

‘We go 24/7’

Another upstate lawmaker, Sen. Thomas O’Mara, R-Elmira, has submitted laws that would delay motion on the proposal to cut back the edge variety of hours till the tip of 2024, arguing extra time is required to evaluate the monetary impacts to family-owned farming operations.

In a 2019 report, Farm Credit East estimated the impact of necessary extra time for farmworkers together with a sequence of annual hikes within the state minimal wage would enhance agricultural labor prices in New York by $299 million.

In Peru, Jon Rulfs, operator of Adirondack Farms, mentioned he hopes the wage board carefully examines the impression its choice on the extra time query can have on employers offering tens of hundreds of jobs to farmworkers.

“It would obviously be a financial burden on us and a potential burden on the employees because we would try to reduce hours,” mentioned Rulfs, 65, a life-long dairy farmer who has grown the enterprise to 120 full-time employees. “In ag, we go 24/7. We work when we need to work.”

He mentioned his firm exhibits its appreciation to the employees. “We don’t lay anybody off,” he mentioned. “We are dependent on them, and we try to take care of them.”

Today’s breaking information and extra in your inbox