ALBANY – Assemblyman Andy Goodell and Senator George Borrello recently testified before the New York State Farm Laborers Board in support of the efforts by the New York State Farm Bureau, local farmers, and farm workers to delay changing agricultural overtime standards.
In a release from Goodell’s office, under the Farm Labor Bill adopted last year, a 60 hour per week overtime standard applies to all farms in New York State. The Farm Laborers Board, however, is considering whether the overtime standard should be changed.
The Farm Laborers Board consists of the President of the Buffalo Urban League, a representative from the AFL-CIO, and a representative from the Farm Bureau.
Borrello urged the Farm Laborers Board to delay any change in the overtime standards for farmers for a few years to enable everyone to properly assess the impact of the current standards.
“With less than a year of experience, it makes no sense to change the overtime standards without adequate data on the impact of the current standards,” said Borrello.
Borrello also says that “the impact of the COVID pandemic coupled with historically low milk prices have created tremendous economic challenges for our agricultural industry. The last thing our local farmers need is another burdensome and expensive governmental regulation piled on top of their current financial challenges.”
Goodell testified that agriculture is one of the most important business sectors in Chautauqua County, accounting for over $175 million in economic activity. There was a 19 percent decrease in the number of farms in Chautauqua County from 2012 to 2017, according to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture. Imposing higher overtime standards would likely result in a further decrease in the number of farms and the number people employed at farms, according to Goodell.
Assemblyman Goodell also noted that agriculture can be very weather dependent, making it impractical to limit overtime during the harvest or at other critical times. “When the grapes reach their peak ripeness, it is critical that the harvest proceed as quickly as possible. A major rainfall, for example, can have a material negative impact on the value of the crop.”
Likewise, the moisture content of hay is extremely important. If the moisture content is too high, hay can spontaneous combust, causing devasting fires, destroying barns, and killing livestock. Thus, the timing and efficiency of harvests is extremely important, noted Goodell.
Borrello and Goodell also supported the testimony offered by several farm workers, who reported that they counted on the extra work during the harvest season. If the overtime standard is reduced, many farms may be forced to hire a second shift of workers during the harvest rather than to pay overtime, thus resulting in fewer hours and lower income for each affected farm worker.
Some farm workers spoke of not returning to New York at all if the overtime standard is changed, thus creating a potential labor shortage. In addition to their testimony, Borrello and Goodell are supporting legislation that would delay any change in agricultural overtime standards for the next few years as the data is collected and studied.