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Farmers express concern as New York considers expanding overtime for workers

Posted at 8:14 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 20:14:11-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Farming is getting more expensive across the country, but Western New York farmers said they're concerned about the cost of farming within New York State increasing even more.

"Supplies are for one, hard to get. You're paying a premium for everything that comes," Keith Kimball, owner of La Casa De Leche and Red Maples Dairy Farm, said.

Farmers across New York said they are worried about a new expense.

New York State may create a rule that lets farm workers earn overtime after working 40 hours a week. Right now, the threshold is at 60 hours.

Kimball currently employs about 35 workers full time. Their average work week is around 60-65 hours long. He said if overtime starts at 40 hours a week, he can't afford to keep workers on the clock that long.

"If we continued to let our employees work a 60-65 hour week, it would wipe out our profits entirely," Kimball said.

David Zittel is the Vice President of Amos Zittel and Sons Farm. They employ seasonal workers to help with their crop.

"It would cost us, what I consider a relatively small farm, $500,000. Nobody is going to show me where I can get that back. Because the guy in Pennsylvania that's growing a tomato or a pepper, the guy in New Jersey that's growing an ear of corn or a grape tomato, a guy in Michigan that's growing egg plant and lettuce, they don't have that," Zittel said.

Governor Kathy Hochul said there could be relief.

"We want to make sure we take care of our workers and give them what they need, but also give the farmers perhaps tax relief to help ameliorate the impact. It is not final, but we're getting close," Governor Hochul said.

Farmers are worried that won't be enough. They said they would have to cap workers at 40 hours a week just to make a profit.

"I think a lot of guys wouldn't even consider working in New York if they knew they'd only get about 40 hours," Kimball said.

Governor Hochul said the switch to the 40 hour rule would be gradual.

"We are looking at a way, if this is going to be the case, it'll be a long rollout with plenty of time for people to adapt to it," Hochul said.

"What the slow onset of going from 60 to 40 hours a week does for us is it gives us time to plan and time to consider our options," Kimball said.

Kimball said one of those options might be leaving New York State.

"Do we continue to farm in New York or do we move somewhere where the regulations are more favorable and do what we love to do and make a living doing it?" Kimball said.