Hochul labor commissioner approves 10-year phased introduction of 40-hour workweek for farm workers


Late Friday, Governor Kathy Hochul’s Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon issued an order to phase in a 40-hour workweek for farmworkers by 2032. The plan, recommended by a wages commission, sparked backlash from farmers and some elected Republicans. who say it will seriously harm the state’s agricultural industry.

In September, the Farmworkers Wage Commission, implementing the details of a 2019 law, charted a course that would gradually reduce hours, starting from the current 60-hour week. The limit will be 56 hours per week from January 2024, then reduced every two years until it reaches 40 hours on January 1, 2032. Farmworkers can work more than the minimum 40 hours per week , but farm owners have to pay them overtime for this.

Hochul, speaking two days before the ruling was due, said if her labor commissioner approved the plan, she would support it.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Hochul said Sept. 28.

When the law was passed three years ago, it was hailed by Democrats and labor rights advocates, who said farmworkers would finally have the same rights to overtime pay as nearly everyone else. professions have held for decades.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said Friday’s decision shows “the cause of justice has finally prevailed.”

Farm owners disagree.

David Fisher, the chairman of the New York State Farm Bureau, was the only member of the farmworkers’ wages commission to vote against the plan. In a statement, Fisher called the commissioner’s order “a tough day for anyone who cares about New York’s ability to feed itself.”

Farm owners have argued that the growing and harvesting season is too short to limit the hours workers spend planting and picking crops. They say their operating margins are so thin they can’t afford to pay overtime.

They predicted that some farms and dairy operations will have to close and farm workers will look to neighboring states, where they can work longer hours and earn more money.

Peter Ten Eyck, the longtime owner of Indian Ladder Farms, a popular apple orchard outside Albany, attended a press conference in August held by farm owners who oppose the changes.

Ten Eyck predicted that many farms will be forced to close.

“First you’re going to lose the weaker farms,” ​​Ten Eyck said. “The next thing you’re going to lose is the next generation of farmers. People are not going to get into this business. They will not continue. »

North East Dairy Farmers Chairman John Dickenson accused Reardon of ignoring two years of testimony and data from farmers and farm workers showing that the reduced working week would hurt dairy farmers.

Hochul said farmers will not suffer financial harm because she and the legislature in the state budget approved a tax credit program that will compensate farmers for overtime costs. The governor said she understands how “essential” the agriculture industry is to the state.

“This additional cost will be absorbed by New York State,” Hochul said. “Because, to me, the farming community is part of our national security, it is part of the economic security of our state. It is a huge job engine.

Hochul said the extra overtime pay would help New York farmers, who compete with other states for a limited supply of workers.

“They will still work 60 hours. The day is going to be long. That’s how the season works, the governor said. “But they also get paid every penny in overtime that they don’t get paid in other states. It’s an advantage.

Farm owners are still unconvinced, and they have allies among Republicans in the state legislature, who are in the minority party there. In a statement, Republican Minority Leader in the state Senate, Robert Ortt, called the decision “nothing less than a programmed collapse of New York’s agricultural industry.”

Hochul’s opponent in the 2022 gubernatorial race, Republican Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, also sided with the farm owners.

“Just when New York farmers thought life couldn’t get any tougher in the Empire State, Kathy Hochul has let New York farmers down once again,” Zeldin said in a statement. “This overtime rule only adds insult to injury and these are all costs that are going to be passed on to the consumer made up of ordinary New Yorkers who are already struggling to put food on the table. “.


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