Capitol Notes

Farm Bureau president frustrated by process setting future OT threshold

Why has the state’s commissioner of agriculture and markets been silent about future overtime rules for farmworkers?

Who is writing a final report for the Farm Laborers Wage Board?

What will board members vote on during their final meeting on Thursday?

Those are just some of the questions plaguing David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau, who sits on the three-member wage board that is scheduled to issue recommendations on Thursday that will likely determine when overtime kicks in for farmworkers in the future.

The current threshold, which took effect in January as the result of sweeping legislation passed in 2019, is set at 60 hours a week, a first of its kind mandate for farmworkers in the state. Since February, the wage board has been considering whether the threshold should be lowered, with a statutory responsibility to make recommendations on the issue by the end of the year.

Fisher joined The Capitol Pressroom on Wednesday to talk about the wage board process, which has left him feeling in the dark.

Asked who is writing the recommendations and when he’ll see them, Fisher said, “There hasn’t been a lot of communication on any of these things. I quite often don’t know the agenda until a few minutes before the meeting.”

The board, while chaired by Buffalo Urban League President Brenda McDuffie, has been run behind the scenes by staff from the state Department of Labor.

During meetings of the board on Monday and Tuesday, board member Denis Hughes, former president of the New York AFL-CIO, repeatedly pushed for a system of overtime benefits kicking in at 40 hours, which would be phased in over a “reasonable period of time.” McDuffie has also expressed a desire to lower the threshold for obtaining overtime benefits.

Fisher – who appeared visibly frustrated in Tuesday’s meeting – urged a cautious approach to lowering the overtime threshold, warning that it could make farming prohibitively expensive in New York.

“I think we need time to look at the impact of this … Without three years of data, it’s going to be really hard to know if farmers can afford to pay more and what they can afford to pay or how to start it,” he said. “Three years of data, a year to look at it, study it, maybe have another wage board or another board of some sort that looked at it, and then some time to give farmers notice so they would have time to plan their business accordingly.”

Elaborating on comments made in Tuesday’s board meeting, Fisher also told The Capitol Pressroom that he “doesn’t feel good” about state Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball not playing an active role in the board’s process.

“He is a farmer and as a government official he is charged with implementing policy, so it just seem like we should, as a wage board, hear from him directly,” Fisher said.

The board is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. on Thursday over Zoom.

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