Officials at the state Department of Labor on Wednesday gave final approval for a lower threshold for when farm workers will qualify for overtime pay in New York.
The move will mean gradually lowering the overtime threshold from 60 hours a week to 40 hours starting Jan. 1, 2024. The threshold will be reduced by 4 hours a year until 2032, when it will reach 40 hours a week.
Labor officials had previously signed off on the change after starting a two-year process with a wage board composed of farm workers, advocacy organizations, agriculture producers and labor unions.
The change will also be coupled with tax credits meant to offset the financial cost of the change.
“These new regulations ensure equity for farm workers, who are the very backbone of our agriculture sector,” said New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “By implementing a gradual transition, we are giving farmers time to make the appropriate adjustments. These new regulations advance New York State’s continued commitment to workers while protecting our farms.”
The change has been cheered by advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has argued the higher threshold for overtime is a vestige of racially motivated labor policy from nearly a century ago.
But agriculture organizations like the New York Farm Bureau have opposed the lowered threshold over concerns smaller producers would be adversely affected by the change, which is not reflective of the realities of running a farming operation.
Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level blasted the move in response.
"Albany Democrats have ignored the concerns of farmers across New York State by adopting regulations to lower the overtime threshold, which jeopardizes the future of New York's agriculture industry and will put thousands of farm laborers out of work,” Rep. Elise Stefanik said. “This out of touch decision makes New York less competitive and will exacerbate the existing labor shortage our farmers are already facing."
Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, meanwhile, called the move the wrong one.
"Our family farmers are already struggling with skyrocketing inflation, high unemployment insurance taxes, and a severe worker shortage," Ortt said. "This is one more burdensome mandate passed on by unelected bureaucrats that will cause more harm. Instead of working to make New York more affordable, One Party Rule continues to impose anti-business policies that drive up costs for our small businesses and family farms."