By Stewart Appelbaum
New York’s farmworkers work as hard – or harder – than most New Yorkers, yet they are not entitled to overtime pay after 40 hours worked. This injustice needs to end now – farmworkers deserve the same dignity and respect on the job as other workers in the state, most of whom are already entitled to a 40-hour workweek.
Unlike most workers in the Empire State – and the rest of the country – New York’s farmworkers are currently denied overtime pay by New York law until they’ve worked 60 hours a week. This is a shameful relic of Jim Crow-era labor laws that have historically treated farmworkers – the backbone of New York’s agriculture industry – as second-class workers.
Thanks to the efforts of New York’s labor movement, including the RWDSU, farmworkers won historic legislation in 2019 that includes finally giving them the right to organize. Workers at Pindar Vineyards on Long Island made history last year when they joined RWDSU Local 338 and became the first farmworkers in the Empire State to join a union, and others are organizing across New York.
But as long as New York’s farmworkers are denied the 40-hour workweek, they are still denied justice and equality.
New York has made some progress towards correcting this unfair standard, but unnecessary delay is holding back this progress. This year, the New York State Department of Labor’s Farmworker Overtime Wage Board indicated it would recommend lowering the overtime threshold for farmworkers to 40 hours per week, bringing these workers in line with virtually every other hourly in New York over a ten-year period. And, to address farm owners’ concerns about increased labor costs, a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for farm owners to cover overtime pay over 40 hours was approved in this year’s state budget.
It’s been six months since the wage board met; it’s time to make this change a reality, and finally ensure justice and equality for farmworkers in New York. We call on state officials to immediately implement this plan and provide farmworkers with a 40-hour workweek. New Yorkers depend upon these workers every single day, and changing the labor law immediately to bring fairness to the fields where they toil is the right thing to do, both economically and morally. Let this be the last summer New York’s farmworkers are denied the 40-hour workweek.