County Legislature shows opposition to state farmworkers overtime proposal

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The Cortland County Legislature voted unanimously to send a resolution to state officials opposing the potential change in overtime policies for farmworkers that would allow laborers to collect overtime after working 40 hours a week.

The recommendation to lower the overtime threshold to 40 hours initially came from a group of farmer and labor advocates who former Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped to determine a new overtime policy for farmworkers. The Wage Board is composed of three business, labor and nonprofit leaders. It includes New York Farm Bureau (NYFB) President David Fisher, former New York State American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Denis Hughes and former Buffalo Urban League President and CEO Brenda McDuffie.

The board’s suggestion, announced at a public Wage Board meeting in early September, is to phase in the new rules beginning on Jan. 1, 2024 with the threshold set at 56 hours. From there, the threshold would be reduced by four hours every two years, culminating in an overtime threshold set at 40 hours per week in 2032.

The decision is now in the hands of State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. If approved by Reardon in the next 45 days, it will be up to Gov. Kathy Hochul to decide whether the threshold will go from 60 hours per week to 40 hours over the span of the next decade. 

In the County Legislature’s resolution, the county notes that “agriculture is recognized as an important component of the economy of Cortland County and its towns and villages as noted by local and regional planning initiatives and accounts for a $69.506 million business in Cortland County, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.”

The legislature’s resolution also claims the new changes would drive up labor prices and ultimately bring a “disincentive to growing the agriculture sector.”

“This is now the third time this body has taken up this resolution or some form of it. We have had testimony as we have discussed this in the past about the devastating effects this can have in upstate New York,” said Legislature Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2). “ With the quick action taken by the wage board, we felt we need to yet again take up this issue and protest (to) Albany and encourage Gov. Hochul to listen to upstate New York — here she is from — to protect our farms and leave the cap at the current threshold.”