Times Union: Hochul proposes covering costs to farmers for new overtime rules

February 7, 2022

ALBANY — A subsidy that could cost taxpayers up to $130 million annually is being proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul to indefinitely cover the costs associated with bringing farm workers in line with the rest of the labor market with a 40-hour work week.

Despite the lofty proposition in the executive budget unveiled last month by the governor, the agriculture industry is claiming it would still leave “cash-strapped” small farmers behind, unable to make it to the end of the tax year for reimbursement.

Workers’ rights groups assert the refundable tax credit may create too much of a buffer for employers, providing farm owners with little incentive to reduce the hours of their workers if the state plans to cover the difference in overtime costs between the current law — minimum 60 hours per week — and the proposed reduction in the overtime threshold.

Last month, the state’s Farm Laborer Wage Board voted to incrementally lower the threshold from 60 to 40 hours over the course of a decade. Hochul’s proposed tax credit would provide a subsidy for farm owners for the additional costs that the lowered threshold would cost. The credit is proposed to be permanent.

There has been fierce debate on the impact of the lowered overtime threshold, splitting workers’ rights advocates and the agricultural industry; the proposal is now awaiting a decision by state Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon.

“While we appreciate the governor’s proposal, we hope to continue the conversation with her to find the best possible outcome,” New York Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman said in an email. “Ultimately, we are asking for her to maintain the 60-hour threshold so a tax credit would not be needed.”

Similarly, the New York Civil Liberties Union has called for the attention to remain on instituting the wage board’s recommendation to reach a 40-hour workweek. Reardon has until about mid-March to issue a determination.

“The Department of Labor must prevent another generation of workers from suffering by accepting the wage board’s recommendation, and with Gov. Hochul’s dollar-for-dollar refundable tax credit, there is no reason that the overtime threshold cannot be lowered to 40 hours in 2024, eradicating this racist Jim Crow policy once and for all,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.

The board had agreed to a 10-year phase in, reducing the threshold four weekly hours every two years. By 2032, farm workers would have a 40 hour work week. Prior to 2020, farm workers had no cap on the amount of hours they could work before qualifying for overtime.

Modern day overtime standards were established by Congress under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal era agenda. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 created a federal minimum wage and 40-hour work week, both of which farm workers and housekeepers were excluded from following a compromise with southern Democrats to get them to vote for the bill.

Read the full article at Times Union

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