Farm workers tend to hydrangeas at Kurt Weiss Greenhouses Inc. in...

Farm workers tend to hydrangeas at Kurt Weiss Greenhouses Inc. in Center Moriches. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The state panel charged with deciding whether to make it easier for farmworkers to earn overtime pay will hold three public hearings next year, officials said Wednesday.

The Farm Laborers Wage Board was facing a Wednesday deadline to meet by order of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. But instead she announced a series of public hearings, starting Jan. 4.

Reardon said she would "reconvene a wage board to hold virtual public hearings to hear testimony to consider the existing overtime work threshold for farm laborers and the extent to which the overtime work threshold may be lowered in New York State."

Farm employees began to be paid time-and-a-half after 60 hours of work per week on Jan. 1, 2020. Last year, the wage board deliberated about lowering the threshold to 40 hours per week but postponed a decision due to the coronavirus-induced recession.

In February 2021, Reardon issued an order saying the three-member board would reconvene "not later than Dec. 15, 2021 for further evaluation and study."

The virtual public hearings will be on Jan. 4 at 3:30 p.m., Jan. 18 at 5 p.m. and Jan. 20 at 5 p.m. More information may be found at dol.ny.gov/farm-laborers-wage-board-hearings.

Supporters and opponents of lowering the overtime threshold expressed disappointment that the wage board has again put off making a decision.

"There's a risk that the hearings will become a dog and pony show where [the wage board is] not really listening," said Lisa Zucker, an attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union in Manhattan.

She joined other advocates and farm employees for a Wednesday news conference to call for action by the wage board.

Rodolfo Mendez, who tends grapes at Pindar Vineyards on Long Island's North Fork, said he works about 53 hours a week and doesn't "get overtime pay despite working six days a week because the threshold is unreasonably high … Farmworkers deserve fair pay for our labor," he told reporters.

A statewide farmers' group, Grow NY Farms, issued a statement that said in part, "Farmers cannot shoulder the burden of increased labor costs and lowering the overtime threshold would irreparably harm our state's food supply and agricultural diversity."

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