East End farmers: Paying overtime could put us out of business

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RIVERHEAD -

Some East End farmers say a state proposal that would force them to pay their workers overtime could potentially put them out of business.

The Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act would amend state labor laws to give farmhands collective bargaining rights, workers' compensation and unemployment benefits. If approved, farmers would be eligible for overtime after eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

Longtime farmer Jeff Rottkamp, of Fox Hollow Farms, and others say they're barely hanging on as it is.

"It could probably put me pretty close to being out of business," Rottkamp says.

Kareem Massoud, of Paumanok Vineyards, says farmers are at the mercy of nature and they sometimes have to work double time to play catch-up.

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.

Farmers argue that if the measure passes, it'll be impossible to keep their produce competitive with that from other states and outside the U.S.

In the 1930s, Congress passed a law establishing overtime. Farmers were always exempt. This year, California become the first state to include overtime for farm workers. The bill pending in Albany could make New York the second.

A public hearing on the bill is being held this Friday at the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge.

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