Tue | Dec 5, 2023

Pay bumps coming for more farmworkers in US, long denied overtime

Published:Saturday | October 1, 2022 | 1:27 PM
Farm worker Enrique Rubio of Mexico works at the Dutch Hollow Farms milking Jersey dairy cows, Tuesday, September 20, 2022, in Schodack Landing New York. Harvest season means long days for US farmworkers — but usually no overtime pay. New York is now joining several states that have begun to change this rule. The state's labor commissioner today approved a proposal to implement its own 40-hour overtime rule for farm workers. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

STUYVESANT, N.Y. (AP) — Harvest season means long days for United States farmworkers — but usually no overtime pay. Federal law exempts farms from rules entitling most workers to 1.5 times their regular wage when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

New York is now joining several states that have begun to change the rule.

The state's labour commissioner on Friday approved a recommendation to phase in a 40-hour threshold for farmworker overtime over the next decade. Right now, farmworkers in New York qualify for overtime pay only after they have worked 60 hours in a week.

Labour Commissioner Roberta Reardon called the plan “the best path forward” for farmworker equity and success for agricultural businesses.

Washington, Minnesota, Hawaii and Maryland have also granted forms of overtime entitlements to agricultural workers.

California, an agricultural giant, this year began requiring farms to pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours in a week.

The changes have excited workers, who say they sorely need the extra money but alarmed some farm owners, who say extra labour costs could wipe out thin profits.

Some labour movement advocates fear workers' hours will be capped.

That's what Elisabeth Morales says happened at the grape vineyard where she works in California's Central Valley. After the state's overtime rules changed, the vineyard cut her hours to no more than 40 per week and hired more labourers so it could get needed work done without having to pay overtime.

Farm workers were excluded from overtime pay in the federal 1938 Fair Labour Standards Act, and some labour advocates say its a legacy of Jim Crow.

The overtime rule change is aimed at people like Doroteo, a farmhand at a Long Island vineyard who works almost 60 hours a week during harvest season, supplementing his pay with landscaping jobs on the side.

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