New York farms were among one of the hardest hit sectors of the economic fallout from COVID-19. Demand for supplies dropped dramatically and supply-chain issues completely derailed the marketplace. Considering the already substantial obstacles facing the state’s agriculture industry, it is shocking New York’s Wage Labor Board is considering, again, lowering the overtime threshold amid one of the most devastating economic collapses that we’ve ever seen.

Per the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, farm workers are eligible for overtime after working more than 60 hours a week. The Wage Board will make recommendations on lowering this threshold to 40 hours a week by the end of the year. During hearings held recently, farmers testified that if the Wage Board recommends another reduction, New York farms will likely face a level of financial distress they may never be able to overcome.

In order to stay solvent, some of these farms will be forced to lay off employees. This will further inhibit their recovery and put laborers out of work altogether. Approximately 96 percent of farms in New York are family-owned and these farms are already reeling from the pandemic. A State Farm Bureau survey indicated that 43 percent of the state’s farms lost sales during the COVID-19 health crisis—and putting any more pressure on them is ill-advised.   

New York’s notorious regulatory environment has already put our state’s farms at a competitive disadvantage. Across the country, the average farm commits 36 percent of its revenue to labor costs. In New York State, farms spend 63 percent of revenue on labor. For these and other reasons, I joined my Assembly Minority Conference colleagues to convey our concerns to Gov. Cuomo and agency commissioners about the potential damage a rushed Wage Board decision might inflict on family farms.

We are at a point where every facet of our economy stands on unstable ground and faces a prolonged recovery process. We are still unsure of whether or not federal stimulus and emergency funding will be made available, and we are years away from fully understanding the complete picture of COVID’s impact on the agricultural industry.

State agencies and officials should be bending over backwards to protect New York’s farms, not saddling them with more costs. I am calling for a pause on any potential changes to the already burdensome overtime rules in place. Financially harming New York’s farms at this stage might forever cripple our state’s incredible agricultural contributions to the state and the nation; that is simply unacceptable.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay can be reached at his district office, 200 N. 2nd St., Fulton, by email at barclayw@nyassembly.gov and on Facebook or Twitter at @WillABarclay.

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