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Overtime hours for farmers and workers could change

Posted at 6:43 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 18:43:48-04

APPLETON, N.Y. (WKBW) — On Bitner-Singer Farms in Appleton, farm workers are out picking red delicious apples.

“These are people who want these jobs, but they’re going to go somewhere else,” said Jim Bitner of Bitner-Singer farms.

Currently, a farmer must pay their workers overtime if they work more than 60 hours. The change was made in January of 2020 as part of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act signed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Local republican politicians and more than 20 local farmers in Niagara County say a newly created Farm Labor Wage Board as part of that 2020 law is recommending overtime be paid to workers after 40 hours instead of 60. That means the farm would have to pay its workers time and a half after that worker has reached 40 hours.

Farmers who say 50% of their total cost is labor tell me that will be unsustainable and will kill business and drive workers to other states.

“Farm workers from other countries like Mexico have said ‘if you lower this I will not be able to make enough money to support my family,” said Senator George Borrello.

State Senator Robert Ortt says farmers, who make an average of eight cents on every dollar a consumer spends at the grocery store says there’s just not enough of a profit margin to pay workers more.

Farmers say in New York as opposed to other states, the seasons are shorter so they have to make money when they can, and that may mean workers need to work more than 60 hours to make that happen.

“We produce a lot of things here and people need to start supporting local. If people really care, they need to start going out of their way to ask where it was grown,” said Bitner.

The Department of Labor tells me Farm Laborers Wage Board will be reconvened between November 1 and December 15 to decide.