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The following letter to the editor was originally published on September 12, 2022.

The article on the Wage Board overtime recommendation quoted an activist as saying all the profits in agriculture are made on “…the backs of Black and brown workers.” As an apple grower, I heartily agree.

None of my peers in New York’s great produce growing sector could make any living at all if it weren’t for the thousands of loyal harvest specialists – many who come on visas from Jamaica and Mexico – who return every year to bring in our crops. They leave their homes and families behind, with a contract that guarantees $15.66/hour and a minimum of 40-50 hours per week. Far from being exploited, our crews come with the expectation of bountiful hours of work – including on Saturdays – that they can proudly send to their families back home. We seem to be the last workplace in America that prides itself on this.

In the contracts they sign, overtime is incurred after 60 hours, or on the seventh work day of a week. They come willingly, most returning year after year. Overtime is not their issue, it is an issue being foisted on them by outside interests, to no workers’ benefit.

Who cares about these workers? Not the Urban League, which has no interest in the goings on in rural areas. Not the unions, who uniformly oppose giving visas to Mexicans and Jamaicans. And not the political sponsor, Sen. Ramos, who doesn’t think anyone should have to come abroad to do such hard work, when they can just stay home with their families (I know this because she told me).

Who does care that these Mexican and Jamaican workers are here, besides us growers? Their families, whose lives we have helped to improve for decades.

Mark Russell
Niagara County Farm Bureau

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