New York congressional Republicans on Thursday announced federal legislation that would block the enactment of a lower overtime threshold for agriculture workers.
The measure, backed by U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik and Chris Jacobs, was proposed after a wage board at the state Department of Labor this week formally endorsed lowering the threshold from 60 hours a week to 40 over the next decade.
Lowering the threshold, which will be offset by a state subsidy to farmers, has been embraced by labor unions and progressive advocates. But the agriculture sector has protested the decision.
“I’m standing up for our hardworking farmers and workers devastated by Albany’s out-of-touch decision to lower the farmworker overtime threshold," Stefanik said. "As this decision jeopardizes New York’s agriculture industry, puts thousands of farm laborers out of work, and makes New York less competitive by forcing our workers to neighboring states in the midst of a labor shortage, this bill will set a federal standard to ensure the overtime threshold for agricultural workers cannot be lowered beyond 60 hours a week, so our farmers can continue to operate their farms and New York can continue its strong contributions to our food security."
Farmers have argued the lowered threshold does not realistically reflect the needs of agriculture and operations that do not work on a 9-to-5 schedule.
“Farming is not like other industries. It is not a normal work week, subject to weather, and operates within very slim margins," Jacobs said. "None of these factors were properly considered before this recommendation was made. Our already small workforce will be further depleted as workers seek more hours in other states, and our farmers will face dire financial burdens."
But advocates for migrant workers as well as labor unions have cheered the move, calling it necessary to support workers and treat them fairly.
"Immigrant farm workers feed New York State. Our agriculture industry and food supply simply could not exist without our hardworking immigrant farmworkers, who we rely upon every day to keep our supermarket shelves full and our meals healthy. Yet, they are inexcusably excluded from the right to be compensated fairly for overtime pay after 40 hours of work, a holdover from the racist Jim Crow legacy of shutting out farmworkers from labor rights," said Murad Awawdeh the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "For far too long, farmworkers have been forced to bear the burden of a biased system and paid less for their overtime work than the rest of the workforce in the state."