Update September 2022:
The New York Farm Laborer Wage Board officially recommended lowering the overtime threshold for farmworkers from 60 hours to 40 hours a week over the next decade.
For decades, farmworkers in New York were denied basic labor rights like unemployment insurance, the right to form a union, and overtime pay. Excluding farmworkers – who were mostly Black people at the time - from the rights that all other workers were given was an intentional and racist compromise made by FDR in order to get southern democrats to support his New Deal legislation. Eighty-five years later, this Jim Crow policy is so baked into farmers’ business plans that they claim they can’t survive without it.
In 2019, New York lawmakers took a historic step toward eradicating some of this racial and economic injustice by passing the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act. But the law contains one painful carve-out: Instead of the usual 40-hour a week threshold for overtime, the legislature set overtime for farmworkers at 60 hours.
In 2020, the wage board held six hearings to decide if the threshold should be lowered. But at the end of the day the members recommended a pause in the process due to the pandemic.
So, for another year, farmworkers did their back-breaking, dangerous, and low-paying jobs without the right to routine overtime pay.
Farm work that keeps our grocery stores stocked and our cupboards full is backbreaking and repetitive work that can result in irreparable damage to the human body even after 40-hour workweeks. It is twice as deadly as law enforcement and five times deadlier than firefighting. And despite these harms, which only increase with the number of hours worked, farm owners have no incentive to cut back on brutal schedules that go beyond 40 hours a week.
We cannot wait any longer.