NEWARK, N.Y (WROC) — The New York Farm Laborers Wage Board voted 2-1 earlier this week to recommend the Department of Labor require farmers to start paying their staff overtime pay if they surpass 40 hours a week. Now local farmers are speaking out claiming this would cost them and their employees more money.
Right now, farm workers in the state of New York must work more than 60 hours a week to begin receiving overtime pay. Legal experts with the NYCLU argue lowering that to 40 gives employees more breaks and financial gains. But local farm owners we spoke to fear that will drive them out of business.
For more than a decade, Kim Skellie has been the Dairy Operations Manager for El-Vi farms. Being a dairy farmer, he explained they can’t set their own prices, or prevent what makes them work long hours.
“Cost increase to the farmers is a concern because we don’t control our prices,” Skellie said. “Our prices are set by a milk marketing order. Where costs are rising, which they have been in the last couple of years that pinch our margin.”
Almost half of their farm staff are part-time seasonal workers. Some of whom are immigrants here for a few months to make as much money as possible to send back home. Kim argues if they’re forced to cap their hours at 40 each week to keep budgets even, workers will lose money.
“On farms, as your labor costs go from 15% to 25% of your budget, that just that just delimits the amount you can invest back in your farm or any investments altogether,” Skellie continued.
If approved, farmers would have ten years to ease into this new policy. While receiving a 118% tax credit for every hour of overtime they must pay. The New York Civil Liberties Union is a vocal supporter of this proposal.
“If you’re going to work more than 40 hours a week, your body is going to take a toll,” Lisa Zucker, NYCLU Senior Attorney for Legislative Affairs, told us. “That’s going to take a toll on your body, and we’ve had doctors testify about these repetitive stress injuries. And if you’re going to do that, you should be compensated.”
Farm workers on the side of the NYCLU also released statements to the wage board that 60-hour work weeks are dangerous for their safety.
“When those hours consistently there are accidents that happen,” Zucker stated. “Because people are so overtired and overworked.”
The State Department of Labor commissioner has until October 21st to decide on the Wage Boards recommendation.