NOVA SCOTIA (TNS) – Top Republican state and federal officials oppose a hefty subsidy for farm owners to help cover overtime costs for their workers, saying the answer is instead to avoid lowering the overtime threshold.
“It’s not about changing it at 40 and trying to put band-aids on it,” said U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican and GOP gubernatorial candidate, during a press conference Monday at Stanton’s Feura Farm, a family business. business in southern Albany County. “We are here today to stand up to do the right thing, not to partially, temporarily fix the wrong thing if this continues. It is not too late for the state to act to defend its farms.”
The state’s three-person Farmworkers’ Wages Board is scheduled to deliver a report to state Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon on Sept. 6, confirming her January recommendation to require agricultural workers – non-executives – be entitled to overtime for work after 40 years. hours per week. Reardon would have 45 days to make a decision on the recommendation.
The proposal calls for lowering the current 60-hour threshold, which was passed in 2020. Previously, there was no limit to the hours a farm worker could work without being entitled to overtime. The wages commission has suggested implementing the new standard over a 10-year period, starting in 2024 and arriving at the 40-hour workweek by 2032.
In April, the state legislature passed a budget that included a grant centered around the planned lowering of the overtime threshold to 40 hours. It would pay farm owners, every six months, the difference between the last overtime threshold and the current 60-hour cap.
In other words, if an owner makes a worker work 59 hours a week and the current threshold is 50 hours, the state will cover the difference in normal wages and time and a half for those nine hours. The intention is to reimburse farmers for their overtime costs.
“How much more can we subsidize?” And for how long? said event organizer Assembly Member Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, a ranking member of the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture.
New York farms received $144 million in federal government subsidies in 2019. About one in five farms in the state receive a subsidy, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that records agricultural subsidies.
States where farms receive the most government subsidies, in the Midwest and South, receive up to $2 billion a year. The same states are also known to produce the most crops and have particularly low minimum wage rates.
Zeldin, Tague and U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, expressed concern about losing migrant workers to other states where, without an overtime threshold, they could earn more money.
“This is a war on rural America,” Stefanik said, explaining his perspective on the political actions of Democratic leaders.
Stefanik said she was worried about inflation, but opposed plans to raise taxes to pay for government subsidies. His comments came a day after the US Senate passed the Democrat-led Federal Inflation Reduction Act.
In Stefanik’s 21st congressional district, farms received more than $15 million in federal grants in 2019. Only similarly rural western New York congressional districts, including the 23rd district, accounted for more grants.
The event‘s host, Stanton’s Feura Farm, spurned a government grant to help pay for the cost of overtime.
“My philosophy and our farm in general is that we don’t take anything from the government,” owner Tim Stanton told The Times Union. “If that happens, we probably won’t take the tax credit because I don’t think it’s fair for other people to subsidize me.”
The Stanton family farm, in its current iteration, opened in 1986. (The family says they have been farming since 1787.) Stanton, himself, received relatively modest subsidies for basic commodities or conservation, totaling about $89,000, from the federal government between 1995 and 2009, according to data from the environmental task force. Data begins in 1995. It does not appear that the farm is currently receiving any federal government subsidy.
If the overtime threshold is lowered, he said, the farm would likely no longer produce raspberries, blueberries and beans, as these are labor-intensive crops.
Proponents of guaranteeing agricultural workers the right to a 40-hour working week say improving working conditions could make work more attractive. Farms like Stanton’s rely on migrant workers, like those on visas, to do their more labor-intensive work.
“They won’t do the work that these migrant workers do,” Stanton said of the local labor pool. “That’s why migrant workers are here. No one will be picking vegetables all day or fruit all day in this country. It just doesn’t happen.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been one of the most vocal advocates of lowering the overtime threshold, urges passage of the 40-hour week rule.
“Farmworkers have already waited more than 80 years for an end to the racist exclusion that has stolen countless overtime hours,” NYCLU attorney Lisa Zucker said in a statement. “The Department of Labor must prevent another generation of workers from suffering by accepting the Wage Council’s recommendation, and with Governor (Kathy) Hochul’s more than dollar-for-dollar refundable tax credit, it won’t There’s no reason the overtime threshold can’t be lowered to 40 hours in 2024, eradicating this racist Jim Crow policy once and for all.”
(c)2022 The Times Union (Albany, NY)