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Residents from across upstate N.Y. address issues that have significant effects on their lives.

Minimum wage increase sparks hopes, concerns

In upstate, the minimum wage is at $9, but will rise to $12.50 by the end of 2020. It is an issue that affects many across upstate, from farmers and small business owners to the workers themselves.

Anthony Emmi is the general manager of Emmi and Sons Farm in Baldwinsville, just outside of Syracuse. Among the crops are tomatoes, squash and peppers.

Anthony Emmi is the general manager of Emmi and Sons Farm in Baldwinsville, just outside of Syracuse. He's worried that the increase in the minimum wage will make labor costs too expensive.
Credit Tom Magnarelli/WRVO News
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Anthony Emmi is the general manager of Emmi and Sons Farm in Baldwinsville, just outside of Syracuse. He's worried that the increase in the minimum wage will make labor costs too expensive.

"I raise about seven acres now, the bell peppers," Emmi said. "I started cutting back, we were at 72 acres. We used to ship up and down the East Coast. Now, New York state is it."

Emmi said he cannot find reliable domestic workers to plant, pick and pack fruits and vegetables on 200 acres of his land. So for more than 10 years, he has used the federal H-2A program to hire migrant field workers.

As part of a four-part collaborative series produced by public radio stations WBFO in Buffalo, WRVO in Oswego/Syracuse, WSKG in Binghamton and WXXI in Rochester, Tom Magnarelli of WRVO News reports how an increased minimum wage in New York state will have a big impact. The series focuses on economic issues that hit many upstate New York residents right in their wallets.

But financial concerns have dropped the number of migrant workers he employs from 60 to 16. 

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"Every year, that H-2A wage increases, like we're always two to three dollars, usually three dollars, higher than the minimum wage," Emmi said.

Right now, Emmi pays $11.74 an hour. If upstate's minimum wage rises as planned to $12.50 by the end of 2020, Emmi said he fears he could be paying more than $15 an hour to migrant workers.

"I’m afraid it's going to make the only thing I have left to get reliable help unavailable for me," Emmi said. "It’s going to become so expensive, I won’t be able to use it."

About 11 miles away in the village of Liverpool, various local and state labor groups rally on a busy corner in support of a $15 minimum wage upstate.

Rebecca Fuentes of the Workers Center of Central New York.
Credit Tom Magnarelli/WRVO News
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Rebecca Fuentes of the Workers Center of Central New York.

Rebecca Fuentes of the Workers Center of Central New York said for an industry such as farming, which has been heavily subsidized, wages have not kept up with inflation.

"You're probably going to find very few employers that agree with raising the minimum wage, but it's necessary," Fuentes said. "They shouldn’t be exempt."

Earlier this year, a Siena College poll found that an overwhelming amount of upstate business leaders are against raising the minimum wage to $15. Another Siena poll showed a majority of voters across the state do support the gradual increase. 

Many residents in upstate New York agree with raising the minimum wage, but they also have very different thoughts about the effects.

Jamie Burgess lives in Buffalo and said there is a downside.

"Everything will go up, I believe that," Burgess said. "They’re looking at, 'We gave you more money, so we're going to boost taxes and the cost of everything.' "

Demiqua Bryant, who lives close to Binghamton, is glad to have already secured her job at a fast-food company.

"There's not going to be jobs anywhere, because everyone is going to be looking for a job because of the money raised," Bryant said. "So I’m just happy that my job is going to do it, I already have my job before they do it."

Robin Woolsey of Rochester said a higher minimum wage will make life a little easier. She sees the daily challenges that her sister, a certified nursing assistant, goes through.

"She struggles every month to pay her rent. Every month," Woolsey said. "My niece just turned 17 and had to get her first job to help out her mother to help pay the rent and to help pay the bills."

Back at Emmi and Sons Farm in Baldwinsville, Anthony Emmi knows the difficulty in running his business.

"If you're not working every day, seven days a week, you're not going to make it, the margins are that close," Emmi said.

Emmi is the third generation in his family to run this farm -- and he does not know if there will be a fourth.

"It might end with me, and I'm fine with that," Emmi said. "It's a struggle."

Dan Coker waits for a bus to get to work at the Steve T. Hots and Potatoes restaurant in Gates, N.Y. Coker, who works the night shift for minimum wage, says that once you start working minimum wage, it is impossible to leave that economic situation.
Credit Joseph Ressler/RIT
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Dan Coker waits for a bus to get to work at the Steve T. Hots and Potatoes restaurant in Gates, N.Y. Coker, who works the night shift for minimum wage, says that once you start working minimum wage, it is impossible to leave that economic situation.

To see the entire photo essay of minimum-wage worker Dan Coker by Rochester Institute of Technology student Joseph Ressler, click here.

Mexican migrant workers ride the tractor after harvesting cabbages at Root Brothers Farm. "We hire someone on a farm from another country who knows what the work is like, and just does it," said Robin Root, the co-owner of the farm.
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Mexican migrant workers ride the tractor after harvesting cabbages at Root Brothers Farm. "We hire someone on a farm from another country who knows what the work is like, and just does it," said Robin Root, the co-owner of the farm.
Juan Manuel Mendoza, a Mexican H2-A migrant worker, harvests cabbage at Root Brothers Farm. Farm co-owner Robin Root said the migrant workers are hired to fill a gap in the agricultural labor force.
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Juan Manuel Mendoza, a Mexican H2-A migrant worker, harvests cabbage at Root Brothers Farm. Farm co-owner Robin Root said the migrant workers are hired to fill a gap in the agricultural labor force.
Antonio Romero Tapia, a Mexican migrant worker, looks on while harvesting pumpkins at Root Brothers Farm. Getting the workers to the U.S. can be costly for the farm. This includes months of paperwork and transportation arrangements.
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Antonio Romero Tapia, a Mexican migrant worker, looks on while harvesting pumpkins at Root Brothers Farm. Getting the workers to the U.S. can be costly for the farm. This includes months of paperwork and transportation arrangements.
Migrant workers board the bus that shuttles them between fields at Root Brothers Farm in Albion. "We pay their transportation, we pay their meals on the way up, we pay their transportation home," said Robin Root, farm co-owner.
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Migrant workers board the bus that shuttles them between fields at Root Brothers Farm in Albion. "We pay their transportation, we pay their meals on the way up, we pay their transportation home," said Robin Root, farm co-owner.
Migrant workers eat lunch together in their provided home while working at Root Brothers Farm in Albion.
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Migrant workers eat lunch together in their provided home while working at Root Brothers Farm in Albion.
Rene Omar Montes brushes the dirt off pumpkins that will soon be harvested at Root Brothers Farm in Albion.
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Rene Omar Montes brushes the dirt off pumpkins that will soon be harvested at Root Brothers Farm in Albion.
Migrant workers toss pumpkins to one another while harvesting at Root Brothers Farm in Albion. Most workers will return to the farm each year to continue work; some have returned for years.
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Migrant workers toss pumpkins to one another while harvesting at Root Brothers Farm in Albion. Most workers will return to the farm each year to continue work; some have returned for years.
From left, Rene Omar Montes, Antonio Romero Tapia and Ruben Mendoza Cibrian sit on pumpkins while waiting for the tractor to return with more pumpkin bins at Root Brother Farm in Albion.
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From left, Rene Omar Montes, Antonio Romero Tapia and Ruben Mendoza Cibrian sit on pumpkins while waiting for the tractor to return with more pumpkin bins at Root Brother Farm in Albion.
Ruben Mendoza Cibrian, left, and Rene Omar Montes walk to the pumpkin fields together at Root Brothers Farm in Albion.
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Ruben Mendoza Cibrian, left, and Rene Omar Montes walk to the pumpkin fields together at Root Brothers Farm in Albion.
Justin Edlich, 17, works for minimum wage at Wickham Farms in Penfield. He'd like to see an increase in minimum wage so he can save more for college. For adults earning minimum wage, he said, "If you're supporting a family, $9 is not gonna cut it."
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Justin Edlich, 17, works for minimum wage at Wickham Farms in Penfield. He'd like to see an increase in minimum wage so he can save more for college. For adults earning minimum wage, he said, "If you're supporting a family, $9 is not gonna cut it."
Sierra Hall, a 17-year-old employee at Wickham Farms, says minimum wage is quite "do-able" in high school. She can pay for gas and go out a couple of nights a week with friends. For adults trying to sustain a family, she feels it is not enough.
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Sierra Hall, a 17-year-old employee at Wickham Farms, says minimum wage is quite "do-able" in high school. She can pay for gas and go out a couple of nights a week with friends. For adults trying to sustain a family, she feels it is not enough.
Sarah Heath, 33, has waited tables at Jay's Diner in the Rochester area for three years. She makes below minimum wage, but tips help compensate for that. If the pay was raised and standardized with no tips, she says it would make her job less desirable.
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Sarah Heath, 33, has waited tables at Jay's Diner in the Rochester area for three years. She makes below minimum wage, but tips help compensate for that. If the pay was raised and standardized with no tips, she says it would make her job less desirable.
Bill Wickham, 51, owner of Wickham Farms in Penfield, believes raising the minimum wage would have major effects on society by displacing many people in the workforce. Wickham wonders: "If you're getting paid more, but there's no job ... who really won?"
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Bill Wickham, 51, owner of Wickham Farms in Penfield, believes raising the minimum wage would have major effects on society by displacing many people in the workforce. Wickham wonders: "If you're getting paid more, but there's no job ... who really won?"
Michelle Teich, 16, works for Wickham Farms in Penfield, N.Y. Teich earns $9 an hour and believes that her wage is livable for people in her age bracket. For older adults, "it could be raised a little."
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Michelle Teich, 16, works for Wickham Farms in Penfield, N.Y. Teich earns $9 an hour and believes that her wage is livable for people in her age bracket. For older adults, "it could be raised a little."
Nicole Brown, a mother of three, has waited tables at Jay's Diner in the Rochester area for the past decade. She thinks that the projected minimum wage increase would be "too huge for an entry-level position."
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Nicole Brown, a mother of three, has waited tables at Jay's Diner in the Rochester area for the past decade. She thinks that the projected minimum wage increase would be "too huge for an entry-level position."
Israel Garcia, 49, of Rochester is a Cuban immigrant who works at Dalbert's Auto Shop as a mechanic during the day and then works the night shift at a Wegmans warehouse, with only a few hours in between to sleep and relax.
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Israel Garcia, 49, of Rochester is a Cuban immigrant who works at Dalbert's Auto Shop as a mechanic during the day and then works the night shift at a Wegmans warehouse, with only a few hours in between to sleep and relax.
Israel Garcia, 49, of Rochester works at Dalbert's Auto Shop while a customer watches. "A $15 minimum wage would not only help me but a lot of people."
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Israel Garcia, 49, of Rochester works at Dalbert's Auto Shop while a customer watches. "A $15 minimum wage would not only help me but a lot of people."
Israel Garcia takes a smoke break while working at Dalbert's Auto Shop. Garcia is extremely weary of this year's election, and he doesn't believe that either presidential candidate will fix the immigration issues in this country.
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Israel Garcia takes a smoke break while working at Dalbert's Auto Shop. Garcia is extremely weary of this year's election, and he doesn't believe that either presidential candidate will fix the immigration issues in this country.
Israel Garcia jokes with his co-worker and boss, Dalbert Chambers, at Dalbert's Auto Shop. Garcia started working for Chambers with no mechanical skills and has learned everything he knows about cars through working with him for the past five years.
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Israel Garcia jokes with his co-worker and boss, Dalbert Chambers, at Dalbert's Auto Shop. Garcia started working for Chambers with no mechanical skills and has learned everything he knows about cars through working with him for the past five years.
Israel Garcia relaxes at home with his 3-year-old grandson Zaiden at his home in Rochester. Garcia makes it a priority every day to spend his limited free time with his family. "Family is something that is so important to immigrants in this country."
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Israel Garcia relaxes at home with his 3-year-old grandson Zaiden at his home in Rochester. Garcia makes it a priority every day to spend his limited free time with his family. "Family is something that is so important to immigrants in this country."
Israel Garcia relaxes at his home in Rochester, N.Y., with his grandchildren, from left, 5-year-old Devon, 3-year-old Zaiden and 7-year-old Jeremiah. He said he wants his grandchildren to be "hard-working and fighters."
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Israel Garcia relaxes at his home in Rochester, N.Y., with his grandchildren, from left, 5-year-old Devon, 3-year-old Zaiden and 7-year-old Jeremiah. He said he wants his grandchildren to be "hard-working and fighters."
Israel Garcia falls asleep while being driven to his second job. He said he started working the overnight job to "feel a little more comfortable," but he noted that "money is not your whole life. With money you can't buy your health."
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Israel Garcia falls asleep while being driven to his second job. He said he started working the overnight job to "feel a little more comfortable," but he noted that "money is not your whole life. With money you can't buy your health."

Copyright 2016 WXXI News