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NY Wine & Grape Foundation Hosts Labor Compliance Session for Growers and Winery Owners

By Alex Koeberle

10 November 2016
Penn Yan, New York 

On Thursday November 10th, growers and wine makers met with representatives of the Department of Labor in Penn Yan to discuss compliance with New York State and Federal labor regulations, in a meeting organized by the NY Wine & Grape Foundation and attended by an estimated 80 growers.

To answer questions about labor compliance, representatives Kristen Hibit and Melissa Buckley (NYS Department of Labor) and Shequeila Birdsong, Sonia Rybak, and Travis Hall (U.S. Department of Labor) provided detailed PowerPoint presentations and solicited questions from a full audience.  Meeting participants could either submit anonymous questions in advance or openly ask questions during the presentations.

According to Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, the idea for a labor meeting came from meeting with a local winemaker.

“I was at a well-respected winery in the Finger Lakes that had just been visited by the Department of Labor,” Trezise said.  “The owners had a lot of questions, so I figured that many other area growers and winemakers must too.”

Issues Discussed.  Common questions among industry members ranged from meal and travel compensation for workers to record-keeping requirements.  Because agricultural and nonagricultural work adheres to different labor laws, an employer must follow specific guidelines that differ for vineyard (agricultural) employees versus winery (non-agricultural) employees.  Additionally, employers in the grape industry hire a range of full or part time, seasonal, or permanent help throughout the season, whose employment is also subject to different laws.

Representatives emphasized many important labor regulations including:

  • Federal age requirements for farm work: Minors under age 12 may perform jobs on farms owned or operated by parent(s) outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs, minors 12 and 13 may perform farm work outside of school hours with parent’s consent, minors 14 and 15 may perform farm work outside of school hours, and minors 16 and older may perform any job for unlimited hours.
  • New York State minimum wage: As of December 31, 2015 minimum wage is $9 dollars/hour.
  • Requirement for a lunch break:  Any employee working between the hours of 11am and 2pm must take a 30-minute lunch break during this period.
  • Overtime pay:  Farmworkers are exempt from overtime pay, however, winery workers may be subject to overtime pay.
  • Employment record retention: Employers are required to keep employee record and documentation for at least six years.
  • Different labor laws for agricultural and non-agricultural work:  Employers who hire general laborers splitting time between the vineyard and winery are subject to different laws between agricultural and nonagricultural work hours.
  • Federal vs. State laws: Melissa Buckley urged employers, when in doubt, “to follow the stricter of state or federal laws.”

According to Buckley, the state Agricultural Labor Program’s purpose is to educate businesses, not to enforce laws.  The regional offices for the NYS Department of Labor are located in Buffalo and Rochester, NY and the Federal office for the Southern Tier is located in Binghamton, NY.

“Growers should approach us and feel free to ask questions,” said Buckley.

Melissa Buckley and Kristen Hibit, NYS Department of Labor, contact information can be found on the NY state Department of Labor webpage.  For specific clarification on labor laws please visit NYS Department of Labor and NYS Department of Labor: Farm Labor.

Alex Koeberle ’13 is a viticulture research and extension assistant, Section of Horticulture, based at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.