New York Minimum Wage Act for Migrant Workers

The abject state in which most migrant workers in this country exist has recently become a matter of national concern. The increasing stridency of the migrants, personified by César Chavez in California, has resulted in recognition of the need for legislative assistance to rescue them from their plight. The migrant worker is unable to help himself, being burdened by a low annual income and an education level of only eight and a half years in school. In New York, the migrant’s situation is aggravated by the powerful position of the crew leader or “farm labor contractor,” who often determines workers’ wages. As middleman between the farmer and the workers, the crew leader recruits the number of workers needed by the farmer, transports them to New York, and negotiates the migrants’ wages with the farmer. Since the crew leader is usually paid only for the number of workers he delivers, he has no incentive to bargain for higher employee wages. Additionally, the crew leader exercises great control over job assignment, pay disbursement, and housing and transportation, serving as “foreman, paymaster, Dutch uncle, money lender, grocer, policeman, judge and jury.” In this position, the crew leader is able to abuse his authority for his own benefit at the expense of the migrants. As a means of improving the condition of migrant workers in New York, the New York Legislature recently extended minimum hourly wage coverage to farm employees. The effects of this attempt to deal with the migrant problem will be closely observed by other states.