In three booths at last year's New York State Fair, 19 men worked in conditions close to slavery. They made and sold chicken gyros and french fries for 16 to 18 hours a day with a 15-minute break and one meal. They were paid $1 an hour.
They slept nine or 10 men to one bug-infested trailer, sometimes two to a bed. Some became ill. They worked like this for 11 days at the fair. On the 12th day — Labor Day — they worked 24 hours in a row, according to a federal criminal complaint against their boss.
The boss held a legal hammer over their heads: The workers, here legally from Mexico, would violate their visas if they quit their jobs. They’d be deported. They would never get back into the country legally. They spoke no English and sometimes begged for food from other Spanish-speaking workers.
At day’s end, near midnight, they would scrape together pocket change and walk for an hour or more to buy milk and bread. Sometimes, they felt so trapped they could do nothing but cry, said Samuel Rosales Rios, one of the workers.
This was not some hidden sweatshop or a remote farm. After buying a gyro from one of these workers at the Peter's Fine Greek Foods tent, you could head to the Center of Progress, where state agencies like the attorney general’s and comptroller’s urge people to report scams and injustices.
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