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NY farmers worry state will lower 60-hour overtime threshold

Half Full Dairy Farm owner AJ Wormuth (second from left) with some of the dairy farm workers.
Tom Magnarelli
Half Full Dairy Farm owner AJ Wormuth (second from left) with some of the dairy farm workers.

Upstate farmers are worried that a 60-hour overtime threshold for farm workers could be lowered.

In November, a state Wage Board will review the overtime threshold and whether it should be lowered. The overtime rate for almost all other workers in the state is set at 40 hours per week. Farmers say if that happens to their industry it will be disastrous, but workers’ rights groups say it’s needed.

At the Half Full Dairy in the Town of Elbridge, owner AJ Wormuth said their name comes from looking at the glass half full.

“We’re optimistic and want to be positive about the future,” Wormuth said. “But this is just reality that if this issue goes through and it’s lowered from 60, it’s going to have serious negative consequences.”

He said since the 60-hour overtime threshold was signed into law in 2019, they’ve been able to make it work. There was no overtime threshold prior to that. Most of his workers were working between 67-70 hours per week. With the 2019 law, Wormuth dropped some of their hours to make it revenue neutral for them, so they were making the same.

But if it’s lowered to 40 hours, he’ll have to reduce hours further and hire more workers, which will increase his labor costs on things like housing, workers’ compensation and disability insurance. That means more work for Otto, the manager of the dairy farm, who will have to train the new workers.

“That’s going to be tough for me, tough for everybody to teach more people,” he said. “That’s going to be more guys around the farm and more problems.”

Some of the dairy workers said they don’t mind working 60 hours, but dropping it to 40 would be great; they’d work less and get paid more. However, workers may also go to another farm to pick up more hours, or go to another state where there’s no overtime threshold and they can work as much as they want.

Crispin Hernandez is a former dairy worker and member of the Workers’ Center in Syracuse. He said a 40-hour overtime threshold is a basic right farmworkers deserve, like any other worker.

“Some workers have worked like this for more than 20 years,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “They deserve time with their family. They deserve to rest. They deserve this extra time for them.”

He’s advocating for the Wage Board to lower the 60-hour overtime threshold, which the board will review this fall.

Tom Magnarelli is a freelance reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area.