February 2, 2022 by Cara Chapman

PLATTSBURGH — North Country Republican lawmakers decried the state Farm Laborer Wage Board’s decision, announced Friday, to lower the overtime threshold for farm workers from 60 to 40 hours per week.

The board voted 2 to 1 to recommend the change, which will be reviewed by state Labor Commissioner Rebecca Reardon, who will then forward her conclusion to Gov. Kathy Hochul for a final decision, CNHI previously reported.

State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), who previously spoke out against the proposal during a fall press conference at Rulfs Orchard in Peru, said the board’s decision sets up the local agriculture industry and family farmers for failure.

“Despite widespread opposition from farmers across the state, the unelected bureaucrats on the board have moved forward with a new mandate that could jeopardize the future of agriculture in our communities and state,” he said in a statement.

“Out of touch”

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher cast the lone nay vote on the measure, which received support from former New York AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes and Buffalo Urban League President Brenda McDuffie.

Both State Assemblyman Matt Simpson (R-Horicon) and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) described the decision as out of touch.

“This recommendation flew in the face of countless farmers and workers who testified in front of the board about the importance of maintaining the 60-hour threshold,”Simpson said in a statement.

Indeed, State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) stated Friday that the decision contradicted the testimony of 70% of the farmers and farm workers who testified during previous hearings on lowering the threshold.

Stefanik, who wrote a letter in November urging the wage board to postpone considering a reduction in the overtime threshold, said it would put thousands of farm laborers out of work.

“The North Country is home to thousands of dairy farmers, apple growers and maple producers who work tirelessly to provide for our communities but will sadly will be forced to bear the burdens of another poor decision made in Albany.”

No labor, no food

Stec said now is not the time to move forward with an unpopular mandate, adding that residents are leaving the state and opportunities are dwindling.

“Agriculture is the economic backbone of this state and everyone agrees that both farmers and farm workers deserve a fair deal,”he continued.“The Farm Laborer Wage Board’s move harms both. I urge the board to reconsider this decision, before it leads to further exodus from New York state.”

Simpson appealed to Hochul and Reardon, urging them not to adhere to

the wage board’s recommendation.

“We should not allow two unelected Albany bureaucrats to determine the future of the New York State family farm,”he said. “If adopted, the lowering of this threshold would be a death knell for our farmers. Labor would decrease dramatically, and no labor means no food.

“We must push back on behalf of our farmers.”

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