Sen. George Borrello

State Sen. George Borrello talks about the importance of family farms to New York state’s economy during a press event at a large Genesee County farm.

ELBA — With farm fields in the background, state Sen. George Borrello stood with fellow legislators, farmers and farmworkers Tuesday to urge state leaders and the New York State Labor Wage Board to reject any changes to the Farm Labor Act’s 60-hour overtime threshold.

At the event organized Grow NY Farms Coalition, lawmakers and farm advocates said an overtime threshold as low as 40 hours per week, which is advocated by farmworker supporters, risks putting farm families out of business.

Borrello and others commented after a tour of Torrey Farms of Genesee County, a family farming operation in its 12th generation and one of the largest vegetable-crop farms in the state.

A farm wage law, which took effect in January 2020, granted year-round and seasonal farm employees many of the benefits of workers in industries like manufacturing and construction, including overtime pay. The law also mandated the creation of a Farm Wage Board charged with making a recommendation to the state’s commissioner of labor on lowering the overtime threshold to as low as 40 hours per week.

The board is scheduled to make a recommendation by the end of the year.

New York’s important agricultural sector is already operating under some of the most burdensome costs and regulations in the nation, said Borrello, ranking member of the Senates Agriculture Committee.

“Total farm labor costs are at least 63% of farm income in New York, compared to 36% nationally,” he said in a press release. “Even before farmers had to tackle the new challenges of the Farm Labor Act, they were under financial strain. That is why New York state has already lost many farms, including 20% of its dairy farms.”

Borrello said he heard from farmworkers themselves how a 60-hour work week limitation has reduced paychecks they take home to their families.

“They told us that any further reduction to a 40-hour limit would force them to seek seasonal work in other states,” he added.

Borrello also noted that the supply chain disruptions that affected the availability of many food products early in the coronavirus pandemic were an indication that the state not only needs to preserve the availability of locally-sourced farm products, but expand it.

“One of the many lessons of the COVID crisis was the critical importance of sustaining and expanding our regional food supply chain,” Borrello said. “With farmers in the state already financially stressed by the high cost of doing business here, any further lowering of the overtime threshold would force many out of farming or to transition to less labor-intensive crops, both of which would affect New Yorkers’ ability to access local produce, meat and dairy products.”

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