While the idea of lowering the threshold for farmworkers earning overtime wages is good in principle, now is probably not the time to enact it.

The state Wage Board is considering lowering the 60-hour overtime threshold for farm workers to 40 hours in a move supporters say is fair by labor standards.

But farmers and the agriculture industry say such a drastic move would be way too costly for a business that produces such necessary products.

A lower threshold would make New York's producers less competitive in both the labor and commodities markets, they say, and could drive up prices for consumers.

On many farms in the North Country, laborers, many who hail from Jamaica or other island nations, work at least 60 hours per week in the fields, packing plants and elsewhere.

Many stay for a few months for harvest and their work days are long and intense. They do the jobs that many locals can't or won't do, or there simply aren't enough local people around to fill them.

The migrant workers, many who live in workplace housing on farms, are vital the the region's agriculture industry. They have been toiling in apple orchards and on farms for decades.

Farm work often requires physical labor that machines or technology can't do as well. It is also reliant on weather, so a cap on overtime thresholds would be restrictive.

Since migrant workers live in workplace housing and are fed by local farmers, their bills are few, and most of their earnings is sent home to sustain their families.

Working 60 hours a week can supply a decent paycheck to be sent home. But if employers are forced to pay overtime for any hours worked over 40, they are likely to cut back on schedules for migrant workers.

Paying higher overtime wages for any hours worked over 40 would just be too cost prohibitive for many farmers.

And it would also be harmful to the workers who will lose out on work hours and thus, higher wages.

Many could wind up seeking employment in other states where there are higher or no thresholds for overtime pay, which would hurt local farms.

The agriculture industry fears that lowering the threshold would increase labor expenses by about 17% in New York State. When added to the projected minimum wage increase, those costs are expected to go up by $264 million annually, or 42%.

When costs go up for production, then prices for consumers at grocery stores go up.

When we're facing high gas prices, high housing prices and a labor shortage, this is simply not the time to be implementing such drastic measures as lowering the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours per week.

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