Two months ago, U.S. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall - fighting to get the East Coast apple crop picked by Americans - said that 2,300 Puerto Rican workers, who have the same legal status as mainland workers, were available for the mainland harvest.

Fewer than 100 actually came.

According to the Labor Department, 91 Puerto Ricans worked in U.S. orchards this fall. Labor's adversary, apple growers from Virginia to Maine, places the number at about 60.

This acknowledged gap between projection and reality is about as wide as the differences that remain between Labor and the growers in their dispute over the use of aliens - mostly Jamaicans - to bring in a crop worth $175 million a year.

And now, as Puerto Ricans, Jamaicans and mainland migrant workers are climbing down the tall, narrow pciking ladders for the last time, picking up the final "drops" from the ground and heading for their warmer homes in the south, court cases and Labor-grower hostility remain as the final fruit of this harvest and the first flowering of the 1978 season.

From the Labor Department's view, the issue is clear. There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed farm workers in the United States and thousands more in Puerto Rico, who have the same lagal rights as mainland workers. And the law says that temporary alien workers may only be used when domestic workers are not available.

The growers, the Lanor Department argues, have undermined efforts to use domestic labor because the growers prefer "docile" Jamaicans who never argue about pay or conditions and can be deported if they quit.

From the growers' view the issues are just as clear. There are not enough local workers and mainland migrant crews to bring in the harvest and the Puerto Ricans who have come in the last two years have been unsatisfactory. The Jamaiicans know how to pick, can make as much cash here in two months as they do at home the rest of the year and are therefore willing to work hard and fast for the $4 an hour that an able picker can earn at 30 cents per bushel.

The Labor Department, the growers argue, does not care if apples get picked, growers stay in business and food prices remain comparatively low.

This year, the growers appear to have won. They prevailed in a series of U.S.District Court cases in eastern states when they were challenged for dropping the traditional prepayment of travel expenses for workers. They now reimburse travel costs after a worker completes a specified portion of the work season.

Then on Aug. 31 the growers won a big one. The Labor Department had certified the need for only a few hundred of the 5,134 Jamaicans the growers wanted when U.S. District Judge James C. Turk of Viriginia directed Labor to admit the full number requested less the number of domestic workers Labor could immediately identify.

The department cleared the Jamaicans and appealed the ruling, contending that it "undercut the ability of the Labor Department to control the important of foreign workers."

The next day Labor officials said 2,300 Puerto Ricans were available and efforts would be made to get them into the orchards and hold down the number of Jamaicans. The Puerto Rican government said it would cooperate fully.

By mid-September, U.S. Employment Service director Bert Lewis was saying that he hoped as many as 1,500 Puerto Ricans came in while 3.993 Jamaicans were earning U.S dollars.

The basic reason was that the Puerto Rican government withdrew its support for the program because of a lawsuit filed in its own courts over Puerto Rican public law 87.

P. L. 87, passed to protect migrant workers from abuse, requires that Puerto Ricans must be recruited through the island's government and that a grower must sign a contract with the government.

The law provides higher standards for working conditions than those set by the U.S. Labor Department. It also provides that a worker with a complaint against a U.S. grower may bring action in Puerto Rican courts.

A federal appeals court in Boston had ruled that P.L. 87 should not be applied in the United States, and the Puerto Rican government agreed to supply apple pickers without the coverage of P.L. 87.

Threatened with a lawsuit in its own courts, the Puerto Ricans shut down the supply of workers.

"Both the growers and the Puerto Rican government had been playing elaborate games." said a Labor official who said that the growers had been maneuvering to avoid the Puerto Rican workers before the supply was shut off.

Steven Karalekas, Washington attorney for the growers' associations, said that had Turk not ordered the admission of the Jamaicans, the cut-off of the the Puerto Rican workers could have cost the growers a crop loss of $50 million to $60 million due to picking delays.

A Labor spokesman said, "With or without Turk's order we could not have allowed the apples to rot on the trees." The department would have certified up to need immediately, he said.

The performance of the Puerto Ricans who did come in was mixed, according to growers. Joseph Russo, treasurer of the Valley Growers Cooperative in Milton, N.Y., said, "We brought in 10 of whom only one worked 15 days. Four went AWOL after three days and the other five left after six days. The one still here is a good worker."

Marvin Peck, president of the New England Apple Council, said that at one Massachusetts farm that started with 10 Puerto Rican workers, four left and one refused to climb a ladder. The others were "moderately satisfactory." he said.

At the Rinehart Orchards in Smithsburg, Md., near Hagerstown, a Puerto Rican crew was still working recently.

John Rinehart, 51, who like his father before him grows apples and peaches in about 500 acres of orchards, said a domestic crew he hired from Florida in August showed up with less than half the 40 men needed for his orchard and a neighbor's. He asked the Maryland Employment Commission to fill his complement and an order went out for 20 Puerto Ricans.

Two arrived Sept. 26, and 17 more the next day. The first two and a third man left the next day and three more worked for about two weeks, he said.

"The others are doing a good job." Rinehart said I've requested some of them back next year."

Rinehart said he put a single foreman in charge of the Puerto Ricans, picked an older Puerto Rican as a straw boss, kept them together as a work crew, and drove them to mass and to town to shop on off days.

"I think I made the right decision in putting them all together with one man over them," Rinehart said.

"I think if you had a recruitment program over in Puerto Rico and explained to them what they're being recruited for you could get workers who were interested. The Jamaicans caught on. The Puerto Ricans catch on, if you work with them they can do it," Rinehart said.

Juan Velez, a former merchant mariner who became the Puerto Ricans' crew leader, said the men were ready to go home soon, about half of them to wives and chilren. "They would like to come back," Velez said.

The harvest ended as October drew to close, ushering in the preliminary battles for the 1978 crow.

On Monday, lawyers for Labor an the growers go before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to argue over the timing travel expenses and over Judge Turks' ruling on certification.

And a few weeks ago, much to Secretary Marshall's surprise, he was invited to address the International apple institution on Nov. 17.

To the growers' surprise, Marshall accepted.

"We've never had that sesnior a guy from the Labor Department in recent years," Karelekas said. "It takes courage in his part to go in and face the lions in view of what has happened this year."

"We have asked for a private meeting to ask question - 'what is going to happen next year?" Karalekas said.