PrOTect farmworkers already: New York must phase in overtime after 40 hours for field hands

·2 min read

It was New Year’s Eve a year ago when Brenda McDuffie, after presiding as chairwoman at nine meetings of the state Labor Department’s Wage Board for farmworkers, decided more time was needed to evaluate whether the 60-hour-per-week threshold for overtime pay should be reduced.

Said the retired president of the Buffalo Urban League: “I fully expect that at that period of time when we reconvene that we will be able to hopefully come to a conclusion and be able to take into account those things that will allow us to move forward in terms of lowering that hourly wage before overtime is paid.” In other words, she agreed that the 60-hour level should be reduced, but not yet.

So McDuffie voted against the plan of Denis Hughes, former president of the New York State AFL-CIO, to phase in an eight-year step-down, 2.5 hours each year, to bring field hands to the same 40-hour standard for OT enjoyed by every other worker in America since 1938, when Congress and FDR passed the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Farmworkers were excluded then and obscenely remain excluded today, 84 years later.

McDuffie, evidently under pressure from Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, instead sided with the third member of the wage board, David Fisher, president of the Farm Bureau growers’ lobby, to put it off. Fisher got his way and another year has gone by. There have also been additional hearings this month, now totaling more than 26 hours of discussion, all on the one issue of the 60 hours. There’s another meeting today.

We are sure that Hughes hasn’t changed his stand for fundamental fairness, nor has Fisher budged that paying labor justly would destroy friendly family farms. Which leaves the matter, again, with McDuffie. Later on is now, Ms. McDuffie. When has she heard enough?