SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – The New York Farm Laborers Wage Board met virtually Tuesday afternoon to provide its final report to the Department of Labor Commissioner.

In a 2-1 vote, the board formally submitted its recommendation to reduce the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours per week for farm laborers to the Department of Labor Commissioner, Governor Kathy Hochul, and the state legislature.

The 3-person board first came up with this recommendation in January after a series of meetings with public hearings to follow.

Brenda McDuffie, board chair, and Denis Hughes, former president of the NYS AFL-CIO, both voted “yes.” David Fisher, New York Farm Bureau president, voted “no” to submitting the recommendations on Tuesday.

Many farmers and advocates of the agriculture industry are also in total opposition to the change, including Dale Hemminger, owner of Hemdale Farms & Greenhouses in Seneca Castle. NewsChannel 9 caught up with Hemminger as he was packing up from the New York State Fair.

Farmers like Hemminger stress the increase in labor costs and the potential of losing staff if the overtime threshold recommendations are adopted.

“60 hours we’ve adapted to and I’m comfortable with where we’re at. Cranking this down is going to be very hard on our industry.”

DALE HEMMINGER, OWNER, HEMDALE FARMS & GREENHOUSES

The final decision is now in the hands of NYS Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. She has 45 days to adopt, reject or change the recommendations submitted by the Farm Laborers Wage Board.

However, farm owners like Hemminger are fearful for what’s to come if the overtime hour threshold is approved and cut to 40 hours per week.

If we have to pay overtime over 40 hours, we can not possibly compete with Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Canada. It’s just a deal breaker. Our business model will have to change.

DALE HEMMINGER, OWNER, HEMDALE FARMS & GREENHOUSES

On Hemminger’s farm, about half of his employees are full-time. The other 25 workers are seasonal. He said each worker averages about 50 to 60 hours per week in season.

“They’re adamantly against this. This is their career and they’re very sad. They’re saying if we ratchet this down and hold their hours back, they’ll just have to go to another state.”

DALE HEMMINGER, OWNER, HEMDALE FARMS & GREENHOUSES

However, those in support of the overtime threshold recommendations argue farmers should not be working long hours, citing health and wellness concerns.

During her visit to the New York State Fair, Governor Kathy Hochul talked about how she believes this move could be beneficial to the state’s agriculture industry.

We want to make sure we attract the workers here. That is the issue I hear more than anything. The shortage of workers, people willing to do the hard, hard work that starts either year-round on dairy farms, or it is the planting in the spring, or the harvesting that happens in the fall. So, how do we leverage that and make sure we’re the most competitive when someone’s deciding where to be a seasonal worker?

This is going to give us a competitive edge, and already we’re hearing from other states that are worried, California and others, that the workers are going to come here because of that commitment from the state to support our farmers. It’s not settled yet, but we did it in a very thoughtful way where everyone is a winner.

GOVERNOR KATHY HOCHUL, (D) NEW YORK

If the recommendations are adopted, the overtime drop will be phased in over the course of a decade, reducing 4 hours every two years. The drop in hours would begin in January 2024 and be complete by January 2032.

You can learn more about the New York State Farm Laborers Wage Board by clicking here.