NY Farmers Say New Workers’ Comp Laws Could Put Them Out Of Business

Liz Carey

Albany, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) – A New York state proposal that would make farmers subject to overtime and workers’ compensation would put small farms out of business, some farmers say.

Legislators in New York have proposed a Farm Workers’ Fair Labor Practices Act that would make farmhands subject to labor laws already applicable to other employees. NY Senate Bill S2837would grant “collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits to farmworkers.” Currently, the bill is in committee, but is scheduled for a public hearing on today at the Suffolk County Legislature building.

The bill would ensure that farmworkers get at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week; are entitled to an 8-hour work day and overtime if their workweek exceeds 40 hours; ensure they are covered by unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation insurance; require employers to report injuries to farmworkers and ensure that housing for farmworkers meets sanitary codes.

Sponsored by Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-13th District, the bill would make New York only the second state in the country to protect farmworkers under a fair labor act. In the 1930s, Congress enacted legislation establishing overtime. However, farmworkers were exempt in that bill. Last year, California passed legislation that would make farmworkers subject to overtime pay after working 9.5 hours in a day and 55 hours in a week. That legislation went into effect at the beginning of this year. By January 2022, employers with at least 26 farmworkers would have to conform to the 8-hour workday/40-hour workweek standard. Business with 25 or fewer employees will have until 2025 to adjust.

“New York’s farmworkers are some of the most overworked and underpaid workers in our state,” said Ramos, who chairs the Senate Labor Committee, in a statement when she re-introduced the bill in February. “They not only deserve a living wage, but employment benefits like so many other workers in New York receive. It is my duty as Chair of the New York State Senate Labor Committee to ensure that all labor in New York is dignified.”

Sen. Ramos did not immediately respond to questions regarding the bill.

Farmers in New York say the bill will hurt them at the expense of farmworkers.

Jeff Rottkamp, of Fox Hollow Farms in Baiting Hollow, N.Y. said the bill could tip the scales against him.

“It could probably put me pretty close to being out of business,” Rottkamp said, according to News 12 on Long Island. .

Angel Reyes, of the Rural & Migrant Ministry, an agency that advocates for farm workers, says overtime for them is long overdue. He says the public may not even realize farm workers don’t get overtime because many are afraid to bring up the issue.

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