As the Farm Laborers Wage Board continues to evaluate potential changes to the overtime threshold in New York, I want to again call upon them to consider the gravity of their decision. Recently, I submitted testimony to the board calling for them to consider the enormous challenges facing New York farmers. Those challenges, an oppressive tax and business climate and an innate competitive disadvantage against other states, have been greatly exacerbated by recent economic conditions as well as COVID-19.
Now is not the time to put additional pressure on New York’s farmers. Supply chain and labor shortages borne from COVID-19 have proven to be highly damaging. Further, the overtime threshold was already recently adjusted down to the current 60-hours per week yielding additional costs. At some point, New York state is going to break the industry altogether, and that is going to spell disaster for the farmers, the consumers and the businesses reliant on the industry.
The board is now parsing through the input of farmers, legislators, business owners, consumers and the public as they consider lowering the threshold to 40-hours per week. Should they choose to do so, the consequences will be objectively catastrophic. A study from Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development lays out a grim future should the threshold be lowered. It warns of cuts to investments in the state’s agricultural sector, a replacement of laborers through mechanization and an exodus of workers to other states.
And as I noted in my testimony, similarly, a recent report by Farm Credit East projects changing the overtime threshold to 40-hours per week, and pairing that change with an increase in minimum wage costs, would result in an overwhelming 42 percent spike in labor costs. That is an economic kiss of death.
Proponents of the overtime changes have tried to paint the issue as one of economic compassion for the laborers. But as I’ve stated, this is a fallacy. Asking farmers to shoulder additional costs will cause a chain reaction that ripples through the state’s economy. If farmers cannot keep up with costs, they are going to be forced to lay off laborers and cut back on production or move to states with more favorable conditions. That will mean fewer jobs and less productivity here in New York.
Additionally, many farmers may simply choose to shut down their operations and sell their farms. Some of that farmland will undoubtedly be repurposed for non-agricultural development, which is the last thing anyone who cares about farming in New York wants to see. In either scenario, New York loses out.
The board must consider the totality of their decision, and lowering this threshold would do far more harm than good. Again, I am calling on the board to put a hold on any changes to the overtime threshold and give New York’s farmers a fair chance to weather the storm they are facing. We need them to succeed, and the proposition at hand simply does not allow for that success.
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