NOVEMBER 21, 1958
NEW YORK—Not long ago I went down to see my friend Mr. Henry Morgenthau at his home in Fishkill. He was just finishing harvesting his apple crop. He likes to call himself an apple farmer, and he certainly produces beautiful fruit in very great quantity.
But this year he has grappled with the problem that bedevils many of our farmers who have to employ temporary labor during certain periods during the year. Mr. Morgenthau went, of course, to the Labor Department to get his help and was informed of all the rules which New York State lays down for housing and sanitary arrangements and with which he complied at considerable expense.
Picking apples requires skilled workers, and the first workers who were sent to him either were not strong enough to do the work or simply did not know how. The result was that for one painful week the apple-picking on his farm went unattended. Then he was able to negotiate for a team of men from the Bahamas.
These Bahamians came without their families. They had a manager who watched over their conditions and they were skilled workers.
This imported help manages to make a considerable income, and they come here frankly to make as much as they can during the time they are in our country. Then they go home and live on what they have made for the rest of the year.
A small sum is usually set aside out of their pay to send to their families, and they are said to be very saving. The conditions under which they work are, of course, agreed upon by their government before they come to this country, just as the conditions of Mexican workers are agreed upon between Mexico and our government.
These workers choose their own cooks and buy their own supplies. On their days off they may dress up and go into town or they may simply lie in their bunks and rest. Their main objective is to work as many days as possible and then to go home.
Also, there is an agreement by which if a man falls ill he is sent home at the employer's expense. I think, on the whole, every effort is made to make this season of work fair and profitable for both the employer and the employee.
There is some feeling in some parts of the country that employing Mexican, Bahamian or any other kind of labor coming from without our own borders curtails the jobs available to men in the United States. Those who feel this way fail to recognize the fact that it is not always possible in a community to get skilled men to perform particular jobs. Usually the remuneration depends on their skill and the rapidity with which they can work.
There are, of course, employers everywhere who try to exploit these workers who move from place to place to work with the seasons, and it is because of exploitation that the laws in New York State have been strengthened. But there is no doubt that there are also employers who want to do the fair thing and who find themselves confronted with an amount of red tape and a number of difficulties which it would seem might be ironed out before the season for harvesting arrives.
Whether natives or men from a foreign country are used, we need to harvest the crops. Hearings should be held where all interested parties are represented in an effort not only to meet the needs of the growers whose crops are necessary to the people of the country but also to safeguard the workers in every possible way.