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FARMERS IN NEW YORK STATE CARE ABOUT THEIR EMPLOYEES

As a fruit farmer in Appleton, I was appalled by Monsignor David Gallivan's Nov. 26 "My View." I hear and read so many false statements about agriculture that I rarely take the time to respond. However, this column really got to me. It angered me to realize that leaders in my own church are spreading half-truths.

Most of my seasonal farm workers are Hispanic. They come to New York from Florida and Mexico because there is work here and they can make good money in a short period of time. The average worker on my farm takes home $400 a week. In addition to the weekly wage, I provide housing with utilities.

Farm workers have more choice than most in regards to agricultural employment opportunities. In this tight labor market, migrant farm workers vote with their feet. If they feel they are mistreated, there is another farm right up the road or in the next county that is desperate for their help.

A county health inspector must inspect our housing before any employee can move in, and several times throughout the year. We are also subject to additional regulations and inspections by a myriad of state and federal agencies for housing codes, sanitary facilities, emergency access and safety standards.

While the agriculture industry, just like other industries in this state, has a separate wage order, our minimum wage is set at the same rate as the state's minimum wage of $4.25 an hour. The latest National Agricultural Statistical Service's survey of field worker wages showed that the average per-hour wage for field workers for our region is $8.18 per hour.

Farmers are not required by law to give a day of rest to employees. However, I rarely ask our employees to work on Sunday. When we do, we ask for volunteers to harvest a crop before it spoils. Between weather and harvest schedules, we rarely work more than 10 days in a row without taking a day off.

Pesticide use is strictly regulated on farms. The law requires that all employees, whether they use pesticides or not, be trained about pesticide safety. This law is strictly enforced. On our farm, we use a training video that is in Spanish. We require our seasonal workers to watch it. We keep a record and give each employee a completion card. This is done even though none of our seasonal workers ever works with pesticides.

New York is actually a state of choice for migrant farm workers. This state funds 13 migrant child-care facilities throughout the state, which provide day-care services and a Head Start curriculum for the children of migrant farm workers.

I care about my employees and I obey the laws. If my workers need time to see a doctor or dentist, I make sure they have the time off and the transportation. One of my employees was in need of glasses; I personally bought them for him. And I have personally helped with the Spanish Mass at my church to make certain that all their needs are met.

Farm work is hard, long and dirty, but I do not require my workers to perform any task that I have not, or would not, do myself.

As a consumer, I ask you to seek out the facts about how your food is produced. Beware of those with hidden agendas using propaganda to manipulate your thoughts and feelings.

JAMES BITTNER is co-owner of Singer Farms in Appleton.

For submission guidelines on columns appearing in this space, click on The Buffalo News logo at the Buffalo.com Web site, then click on Opinions and My View, then scroll down to Contact Us and click on that; or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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