New York business leaders urge pause on farmworker overtime change

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This past March, U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to reconsider a lowering of the threshold for overtime pay for agriculture workers from 60 hours a week to 40. Now, a day after he was sworn in as lieutenant governor, business leaders like Brian Sampson hope he’s still an ally. 

“We ask him to understand that in his role when he was in Congress, he felt that it was bad for his district. In his role as lieutenant governor, he has to understand it is bad for the entire state,” said Associated Builders and Contractors President Brian Sampson. 

But in a statement to Spectrum News 1, Delgado pointed to tax credits in the state budget meant to subsidize the costs of overtime pay for farmers. 

“The governor and state Legislature struck the right balance in this year’s budget by doubling the farm workforce retention tax credit,” he said. 

New York labor officials are weighing final approval of lowering the threshold for overtime pay for farm workers, which would be phased in over the next decade.

Farmers and business leaders on Thursday began a final effort to stop it. Farmers like Paul Ruszkiewicz, also an Orange County legislator, believe the tax credits won’t be enough. He points to the fast rising costs with inflation as well as the spiking price of fuel.  

“It’s affected everything,” he said. “So this is absolutely the wrong time to be considering implementing something that’s going to put increased pressure on farms.” 

Farmers have little control over wholesale prices, Ruszkiewicz said. At the same time, they have argued farming does not fit into a traditional 40-hour work week. 

“As producers, we are price takers,” he said. “We don’t have any ability to pass increased costs onto our customers. So our inputs and our costs are going up, no matter what the market is paying us for our product.”

Supporters of the threshold change like the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Lisa Zucker say the industry has often overstated its demise when regulations are introduced. 

“Every single time they said agriculture in New York is going to be destroyed, and it never happend,” Zucker said. 

The overtime provision is meant to provide fairness and safety to workers across all sectors of the economy, she added. 

“On the federal level, farm workers are still excluded,” Zucker said. “And in our state it continued until 2019 when the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act was passed.”

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