Interview with 100 Jamaicans

I am again in the middle of harvest. This usually gives me the opportunity to talk to growers, packers, and storage operators. I also have the opportunity to talk one on one with Jamaican employees here on H2A contracts. I want to do two things here share with you my collective observations of these men and second perhaps be a voice for them in this life changing discussion surrounding the Wage Board.

First, I am very impressed with the accurate knowledge these men have of the Overtime legislation. You may notice here that I do not refer to this as a collective bargaining/union discussion. To a man they reject the concept of unions and dues.

It is almost unanimous that these men wish to continue working here in New York State.  It has become an extremely critical way for them to support their families. The greatest share of these men have found annual employment with a singular employer. They refer to the farm they work on as their own. Many know the geography of these orchards as well or better than their employers. They understand the ebbs and flow of the industry. They know the pressure that frost, hail, drought, and market pricing places have on their employer as well as offering them a living wage.

To this end they know that the economics of these farms has its economic limits. They understand that it would be wonderful to receive overtime after 40 hours. However, they know that if this were to happen, they would be extremely limited in their hours. Their season is short. To not have the opportunity to work at least 60 hours would mean they would take a huge seasonal reduction in pay. They do not wish to seek new employment but feel it would be necessary if they were to earn the desired income, they need to support their families.

To this reality, they say they can function with the rules as they are presently in place. Any reduction in hours would force the majority to look to new out of State employment. They understand the present legislation and strongly hope that there are no new standards. They are preparing a self-written letter stating this opinion. They have asked me to give them reading materials to help prepare this letter. They will discuss it and plan to sign on each man. We will send this to the Wage Board as their voice on the topic. This is especially important that they have the opportunity to offer their opinion on this ruling.

I am extremely impressed with the level of knowledge this group has as to the importance of the Wage Board. Make no mistake they feel extremely nervous as to the decision coming from this body.

I wanted to share with each of you the feelings of these workers. So often we selfishly only state how it will impact our lives. Make no mistake about it, this decision impacts families here is New York State as well as in Jamaica.

Paul Baker

Executive Director

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