Farmers worry paying overtime will force them to sell

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RIVERHEAD -

Some East End farmers, who are already struggling with the high cost of land and labor, say new legislation passed this month in Albany may cause them to sell their farms.

Starting next January, for the first time ever, farm workers will be eligible for overtime. It will kick in after they put in a 60-hour workweek.

The original proposal was after 40 hours, but farmers statewide, and especially on Long Island, strongly opposed that.

Many farmers say they're barely hanging on, due to the high cost of land, fuel, labor and taxes. And with annual minimum wage increases, they say they cannot compete with out-of-state farmers.

"The majority of farmers work on razer-thin margins," says Rob Carpenter, of the Long Island Farm Bureau. "Times have been challenging for farmers."

Matt Schmitt says he dreams of having his two young sons become the fifth generation to work on the family farm, but now he just hopes he's not the last generation.

Advocates say many farm worker are taken advantage of and that overtime is long overdue.

Ever since overtime pay was established in the 1930s, farm workers have been exempt, given their irregular hours and the seasonal nature of the industry. For example, they may put in 12 hours one day, and none the next because of weather.

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