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Hearings set for this month on overtime for farmworkers

The Farm Laborers Wage Board plans to take

The Farm Laborers Wage Board plans to take testimony in three hearings. The first is Wednesday at 6 p.m. via the ZOOM online meeting platform. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The state will hold virtual public hearings this month on the number of hours that farm employees must work before earning overtime pay, officials said Friday.

The Farm Laborers Wage Board plans to take testimony in three hearings. The first is Wednesday at 6 p.m. via the ZOOM online meeting platform.

Hearings are also scheduled for Thursday and Aug. 31, both starting at noon.

Farmers, their employees, academic experts, politicians and other wishing to testify should register in advance at labor.ny.gov/farmwageboard. The speaking order will be first-come, first-served, officials said.

The wage board is accepting written testimony at wageboard@labor.ny.gov.

The board is examining a new 60-hours-per-week threshold over which time-and-a-half must be paid to farm employees. The threshold is part of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which took effect Jan. 1. Previously, there was no requirement to pay farmworkers overtime, no matter how many hours they worked.

The wage board will make recommendations to state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon by Dec. 31 and she will have until February 2021 to accept or reject them. Her decision doesn’t have to be ratified by the State Legislature.

“We have an opportunity to improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of farmworkers,” Reardon said in February when she appointed the three-member wage board. “Overtime is a key component and we need to get it right.”

Bill Zalakar, president of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said at the time that some farmers told him “they cannot afford to pay overtime. These are seasonal businesses.”

The wage board members are David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau; Denis Hughes, former president of the state AFL-CIO, a union umbrella group, and Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League.

The hearings may be viewed at labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/farm-laborer-wage-board.shtm.

A prior wage board increased the minimum wage for fast-food workers from $8.75 per hour to $15. The decision was a precursor to the state’s minimum wage for all workers rising to $15 per hour over the next few years.

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