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O’Mara, Borrello: Albany’s Farm Wage Board Voted To Change Overtime, To 40 Hours

January 29, 2022

Updated, 4:30pm on Monday, January 31, to include Assemblyman Palmesano’s statement:
From Assemblyman Palmesano:
“Gov. Hochul and this reckless decision by her wage board will be responsible for the destruction of the family farm in New York State if she and her labor commissioner do not reject this disastrous decision. Over 98% of the farms in our state are family owned.

“This decision was handed down on a Friday night news dump in an attempt to bury the out-of-touch and uninformed recommendation to lower the threshold. The 2-1 decision flies in the face of testimony from farmers and their workers. Over 70% of testimony delivered in hearings was in opposition to lowering the threshold.

“Members of the Wage Laborer Board also seemed to forget or failed to consider that before the Farm Labor Act was passed in 2019, farm labor costs in New York as a percentage of net farm income were already 63%, compared to just 36% nationally.

New York farmers have been working at a disadvantage for years due to the burdensome regulations and taxes experienced in our state. They are simply fighting for survival of their family farms.

“A Farm Credit East study found that a lowering of the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours would add an additional $129 million in annual costs, increasing farm labor costs by 42% while decreasing net farm income by 20%. In a Cornell University study, 70% of guest workers said they would seek opportunities in other states if the threshold were lowered to 40 hours. The same study showed a shocking two-thirds of the dairy farms in the interview said the 40-hour cap would cause them to move out of milk production or leave the agriculture industry completely.

“Our farmers have acted heroically over the past two years dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. They are facing rising inflation, increased costs and prices on items like fuel and fertilizer, a workforce shortage and a supply chain crisis. They are not able to increase prices to cover these costs. Now, to add further insult to injury, if Gov. Hochul and her labor commissioner decide to move forward with this disastrous recommendation they will have to bear the responsibility for decimating the family farm in New York state.

“Gov. Hochul can stop this action by urging her labor commissioner to reject this recommendation by the two uninformed, unelected and tone-deaf members of her wage board who advanced this dangerous and far-reaching decision. Gov. Hochul and her administration need to reject and stop this reckless decision from moving forward if she wants to preserve the family farm in New York state.

“I think Gov. Hochul needs to remember. No farms, no farmworkers. No farms, no food.”
State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) blasted the decision by the state’s Farm Laborers Wage Board to recommend rolling back the current 60-hour-per-week overtime threshold for farm workers beginning in 2024. The three-member Board, by a vote of 2-1, handed down its decision just hours after closing the last of four virtual hearings on the issue earlier yesterday. Board member David Fisher, President of the New York Farm Bureau, voted against the recommendation.

O’Mara released the following statement:

“It’s clear that this was a preordained decision by this Wage Board. The hours of testimony from farmers, farm workers, farm advocates, agricultural representatives and community leaders were still echoing across this state in near-unanimous opposition to lowering the overtime threshold, and the Board took no time at all before coming out with a disastrous decision.

“It was a charade all along. I and many others warned that this is where the Wage Board was headed from day one. It was put in place only to keep paving the way for the far-left, so-called progressive political agenda that dominates Albany Democrat decision-making. It had no meaningful or serious concern for the future of family farms and agriculture in New York State.

“The Board heard from countless individual farmers and the leaders of local farm communities. It heard from the industry’s top advocates, including the New York Farm Bureau, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association, Grow NY Farms, and numerous others. It heard from local, federal, and state representatives, like myself, who fear the undermining and ongoing collapse of an industry and, equally important, a way of life that has defined the regions we represent for generations.

“The Board ignored us all. They ignored common sense and caution in favor of continuing this relentless pursuit of an extreme political agenda and philosophy that will drive this state over the edge of a fiscal and economic cliff.

“In fact, Governor Hochul signaled today’s Wage Board decision in her proposed state budget not long ago by proposing a tax credit for overtime costs. She has clearly been determined to finish what former Governor Cuomo set in motion two years ago.

“If left to stand, it will change the face of New York State agriculture as we have known it for generations. It will produce a nightmare of a ripple effect across local communities and economies in every region of this state – but especially upstate in regions like I represent throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes. It will profoundly diminish the future of high quality, local food production. It will spark the loss of family farms and the loss of the livelihoods these farms support across the industry and throughout hundreds of local economies.”

From Senator George Borrello:

“The Farm Laborers Wage Board and the Democrat One-Party-Rule which empowered them have dealt a potentially fatal blow to the livelihoods of New York State’s hard working farm families with the devastating decision to recommend lowering the farm worker overtime threshold to 40 hours per week. This move will spell the beginning of the end for many farms in this once-vibrant industry and force others to scale down production, increase automation or relocate.

“This decision is also a blow to the farm workers, who activists claim will be the ‘beneficiaries’ of this change. These workers have been outspoken over the past several months about their opposition to a lower threshold and the smaller paychecks that would result. Our state already lost many of these workers when the 60-hour threshold was imposed, in favor of Ohio, Pennsylvania and other agriculture-friendly states. That exodus will now become a stampede, thanks to this capitulation to radical activists.

“It is tragic that New York’s farmers and agricultural industry have been sacrificed for political expediency. This fall, data from an independent report by Cornell and presented to the Department of Agriculture and Markets made it clear that lowering the threshold will benefit no one and will force both farmers and farm workers to seek their livelihoods in other states or occupations. Yet, as we’ve seen countless times in the past three years, facts and common-sense carry little weight under Democrat One-Party Rule.

“To the individuals and organizations who have worked tirelessly in partnership with us over the past year to educate decision makers on the realities of the industry and the catastrophic impact of lowering the threshold, thank you for your dedication. Despite this setback, we must continue our fight to sustain the future of farming in New York State.”