NYC business leaders call for pause on farmworker overtime change

Last March, U.S. Representative Antonio Delgado urged Governor Kathy Hochul to reconsider lowering the overtime pay threshold for agricultural workers from 60 hours a week to 40. Now, a day after being sworn in as Lieutenant Governor, business leaders like Brian Sampson hope he is still an ally.

“We’re asking him to understand that in his role when he was in Congress, he thought it was bad for his district. In his role as lieutenant governor, he needs to understand that it’s bad for the whole state.” , said Associated Builders and Contractors President Brian Sampson.

But in a statement to Spectrum News 1Delgado pointed to tax credits in the state budget intended to subsidize overtime costs for farmers.

“The governor and state legislature have struck the right balance in this year’s budget by doubling the farm labor retention tax credit,” he said.

New York labor officials are weighing final approval for a lower overtime pay threshold for agricultural workers, which would be phased in over the next decade.

Farmers and business leaders on Thursday launched a last-ditch effort to stop it. Farmers like Paul Ruszkiewicz, also an Orange County legislator, think tax credits won’t be enough. He points to the rapid rise in costs with inflation as well as soaring fuel prices.

“It affected everything,” he said. “So now is definitely not the time to consider implementing something that is going to put increased pressure on farms.”

Farmers have little control over wholesale prices, Ruszkiewicz said. At the same time, they argued that farming did not fit into a traditional 40-hour workweek.

“As producers, we are price takers,” he said. “We have no ability to pass on increased costs to our customers. So our inputs and costs go up no matter what the market pays us for our product.”

Proponents of the threshold change, like Lisa Zucker of the New York Civil Liberties Union, say the industry has often exaggerated its demise when regulations are introduced.

“Every time they said agriculture in New York was going to be destroyed, and it never happened,” Zucker said.

The overtime provision aims to ensure fairness and safety for workers in all sectors of the economy, she added.

“At the federal level, agricultural workers are still excluded,” Zucker said. “And in our state, that continued until 2019, when the Fair Labor Practices for Farm Workers Act was passed.”

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