Thank you for allowing me to submit testimony regarding the overtime threshold for farm workers in New York State. As you may know, I did not support the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practice Act when it passed in 2019, where farm laborers were given overtime pay for work performed in excess of 60 hours per week, and for work performed on their day of rest.
While there are many positive aspects of the law, I did not support it for several main reasons.One item was taken up this year in the enacted state budget, when the definition of ‘family member’ was addressed. My other objections stem from the 60-hour overtime threshold and the obvious confusion caused when an individual who has NOT worked 60 hours is still entitled to overtime pay if they work on their day of rest. That may have been an unintended consequence of the law that should be addressed.
I realize this hearing is solely focused on the extent to which the overtime threshold for farm laborers can be lowered below 60 hours per week and whether any such reductions should be phased-in through a series of successively lower thresholds.
In the interest of time, and to avoid repeating points I’m sure you’ve heard numerous times, let me officially implore you to not lower the threshold at this time OR consider a phased-in approach. New York State agriculture was already in a weakened state before COVID and is an even more perilous state now. The one silver lining may be that the public’s eyes have been opened about where our food comes from and about the ESSENTIAL workers who produce it.
One day, I hope we can revisit this issue. That day would require farmers receive a fair price for what they produce; one that actually matches their costs. It would also require consumers being willing to pay for what it actually costs to produce the food they serve to their families. And there would also be a fundamental shift in attitude about the dignity of farm work, and about the people who often come here at great personal risk to perform tasks many Americans are unwilling to do.
Obviously, everyone in the food supply chain should earn more than they currently do. But until such time, we should not further stress an already weary system, and inadvertently penalize workers who, in some instances, are actually earning less money than they were before. Some of these farm workers have already left to work in other states, causing New York farms to experience additional labor shortages.
I’m sure the very best of intentions went into the farm labor legislation, but conditions on the ground make it very challenging to execute at this time.