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September 29, 2021 - 12:24pm

Farmworkers and Farmers rally in Elba for 60-hour work week

posted by Howard B. Owens in farmworkers, agriculture, news, elba.
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Press release:

Today, Torrey Farms, a member of the Grow NY Farms Coalition, welcomed state officials to tour their 13,000-acre property. Officials discussed the industry with farmers and farmworkers and heard about the potential impacts of lowering the overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40. The overtime threshold was determined by the 2019 Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act and is in danger of being decreased further, threatening farmers and farm workers alike. Elected officials had the opportunity to see the real implications of a lowered threshold and speak with the farmworkers and farmers who will be directly affected by this change.

“Our land, workers and produce feed families across New York State as well as the Eastern United States and have done so for twelve generations. This year’s harvest is no different. However, if the threshold is lowered, many locally-owned farms will not be able to say the same next year. The compromise of 60 hours reached in 2019 must be maintained. A decreased threshold will dramatically alter the agriculture industry as well as farmworker family income in New York State and decision-makers need to listen to the men and women of the industry they are looking to protect, “said Max Torrey, Torrey Farms.

"Our farm runs 24 hours a day 7 days a week. There is always work to be done when it comes to animal care and we are often presented with obstacles that we cannot predict including inclement weather and breakdowns. Employees want to work on New York dairy farms because they have a passion for agriculture, they take pride in knowing that their work has to get done because the animals are counting on them. They also seek out dairy farm work because they can earn a good living working at least 60 hours a week to support their families. We have employees who have been with us for over 10 years. They want to work here, and we can't afford to lose them. Our businesses and our consumers rely on them. We're urging our legislators and Governor Hochul to maintain the current overtime threshold so we can retain our team, and continue to be competitive in the regional and global marketplace," said Keith Kimball, Owner of La Casa de Leche Farm and Red Maples Dairy, NEDPA Board Vice-Chair.

“New Yorkers have grown accustomed to a wide variety of local produce at their fingertips, especially this time of the year during the fall harvest. However, we are at risk of losing our vibrant fruit farms if the overtime threshold is lowered. We simply can't compete against lower-priced fruit from neighboring states and Canada. If the wage board moves to 40-hours, we have plans to remove trees and transition to less labor-intensive crops. New York State must maintain the 60-hour overtime threshold and protect New York agriculture, farmworker jobs and our food supply,” Jim Bittner, Bittner-Singer Orchards located in Niagara County, NY.

Prior to the adoption of the 60-hour overtime threshold, the industry standard for farmworkers was 80 hours during peak season⁠—a well-established concept amongst farmworkers and farmers whose industry is reliant on labor-intensive harvesting. Although influenced by downstate activists unfamiliar with the agriculture industry, the threshold of 60 hours served as a compromise, despite objections from farmworkers who want as many hours as possible. Farmworkers, many of whom come from other countries to work seasonally, benefited from the long weekly hours in order to make a projected income to return home with. Currently, farmers are at risk of not being able to afford their workers at all with the potential for an even more onerous overtime threshold. Tours like today’s provide the opportunity to educate elected officials and key stakeholders about the agriculture industry and how the proposed policy change with drastically harm the industry.

Later this year, the New York State Wage Board will revisit the 2019 Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act’s 60-hour overtime threshold for farmworkers and determine if an adjustment to 40 hours will be necessary. For more information on the group’s efforts, please visit https://grownyfarms.com/.

Video Produced by The Batavian

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