About Migrant Justice
"Migrant Justice is a school. Migrant Justice is my family; my brothers and sisters where I find the support I need."-Alberto Madrigal, Farmworker Coordinating Committee Member
Our mission is to build the voice, capacity, and power of the farmworker community and engage community partners to organize for economic justice and human rights. We gather the farmworker community to discuss and analyze shared problems and to envision collective solutions. Through this ongoing investment in leadership development, members deepen their skills in community education and organizing for long-term systemic change. From this basis our members have defined community problems as a denial of rights and dignity and have prioritized building a movement to secure these fundamental human rights to: 1) Dignified Work and Quality Housing; 2) Freedom of Movement and Access to Transportation; 3) Freedom from discrimination; 4) Access to Health Care.
History and Accomplishments
Check out our 5 year photo history timeline here
The seeds of Migrant Justice were planted in 2009 after young dairy worker José Obeth Santiz Cruz was pulled into a mechanized gutter scraper and was strangled to death by his own clothing. This tragedy inspired the production of the documentary film Silenced Voices and led to the formation of a solidarity collective organizing to partner with farmworkers to gather the community to share food, discuss community problems, envision solutions and take collective action. From this process members defined problems and created the above human rights agenda. Migrant Justice has gained national attention for our cutting edge human rights organizing and our concrete victories. We are steadily making progress advancing our members' human rights agenda by:
* Building a broad coalition to pass legislation in 2014 that explicitly prohibits all Vermont Police to use public resources for the purposes of immigration enforcement; http://migrantjustice.net/node/236
* Organizing a powerful network of farmworkers, farmers, and allies to win legislation in 2013 for all VT residents to access drivers licenses, regardless of immigration status; http://migrantjustice.net/node/206
* Stopping the deportation of Danilo Lopez in July 2013 in a high profile national Not1More campaign; http://migrantjustice.net/node/218
* Partnering with Vermont Workers’ Center to include undocumented people in Vermont’s 2011 ground-breaking universal healthcare legislation; http://migrantjustice.net/node/97
* Winning over $15,000 in back wages through our Workers' Rights Hotline, Teleayuda, pushing the VTDOL to change labor law in 2013 to expand state powers to collect unpaid wages; http://migrantjustice.net/node/185
* 2015 VT-NEA Human And Civil Rights Award; 2014 VT Peace and Justice Center's Social Justice Organization of the Year; 2013 VT ACLU "David Curtis Civil Liberties Award"; RESIST, Inc. Organization of the Year for 2013; UU Burlington's "Courageous Love" Award for 2013...
Migrant Justice members organize 3 regional farmworker community assemblies, in the states' largest dairy regions, where farmworkers meet monthly to discuss community problems, identify community needs and involve members in our work. We are led by a Farmworker Coordinating Committee, which meets monthly to develop, implement and evaluate our campaigns and strategies in partnership with staff organizers. Migrant Justice is fiscally sponsored by and working in partnership with Wheelock Mountain Farm, which exists to create fundamental social change through education and non-violent action.
There are approximately 1500 migrant workers that sustain Vermont's iconic working landscapes and turn profits for Ben & Jerry's, Cabot Cheese and other famous Vermont brands. Workers typically work 60-80 hours per week and endure extreme isolation, often without a clear sense of where they are and are systemically excluded from many worker and housing rights protections. Farmworkers are subjected to highly restrictive living and labor environments, and are overly dependent on employers to meet their fundamental human needs. Many farmworkers work near the highly militarized northern border and live in fear of racial profiling practices of police, border patrol, and some community members, which together converts many into virtual prisoners on the farm. Additionally, dairy is a notoriously difficult industry where enormous profits from milk products are not redistributed fairly to farmers. Due to this systemic marginalization and industry conditions there is downward pressure on farmworkers' wages and many experience human rights abuses.
Migrant Justice brings farm workers together to build an organization to engage these problems for systemic change and has made significant progress advancing our member-defined human rights agenda.
After our big driver's license (2013) and bias-free-policing (2014) victories, farmworkers decided its time to build a movement to secure the human rights to dignified work and quality housing. This is certain to be our biggest challenge to date. In the summer of 2014, our farmworker Coordinating Committee partnered with our staff to design and conduct a survey reaching over 176 farmworkers (over 10% of population). Some of our findings include:
• 40% receive less than VT minimum wage; 40% don't have a day off (ever)
• 30% have had a work related injury or illness; 32% say they aren't treated equally as US born co-workers
• 26% don't receive a pay stub; 29% regularly work 7 (or more) hours without a break to eat
• 20% have their first paycheck(s) illegally withheld; 20% don't have access to a bathroom or clean water in their workplace; 9% say they have been verbally abused by their employer
• 16% have to sleep on the living room sofa due to overcrowded housing; 15% have insufficient heat
• 19% have worked for more than 2 years at their farm without a pay raise; 1
- 16% have less than 8 hours (in a row) to sleep due to work schedules See full survey results here: http://migrantjustice.net/resources#ix
The Milk with Dignity Campaign
The challenges dairy workers face, established in the survey and after years of community dialogue, led farmworkers to launch of the Milk with Dignity Campaign in the fall of 2014. The campaign builds a movement of farmworkers and allies to call on major food corporations to take responsibility for farmworker rights abuses in their supply chains. Farmworkers converted worker's rights and housing violations, documented in our surveys and years of on the ground work, into solutions in the creation of the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct—where farmworkers defined the human rights essential to a dignified workplace and fair housing. Our members also noted that some dairy farms already had most of the Code of Conduct’s standards in place, demonstrating that it is very much possible and necessary to raise the bar in the industry through this campaign.
To build the campaign farmworkers also engaged in a study of the dairy industry, recognizing that a corporate-controlled industry places downward pressure on farmers' incomes, and profits rise for the few when milk prices are low for the many. Additionally, Migrant Justice farmworker leaders have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Florida farmworkers since August of last year to learn about their successful Campaign for Fair Food seeking to adapt the core concepts of their Fair Food Program to the VT dairy context. The development and design of the Milk with Dignity Program was done with strategic support and collaboration from both the CIW and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI). In December 2014 farmworkers approached Ben & Jerry's, inviting the company to take the lead in the industry by joining the Milk with Dignity Program-- precisely because they are a corporation that has distinguished itself for its commitment to social justice and high standards for sourcing ingredients in its world famous ice cream. Farmworkers discovered, whereas Ben & Jerry's has take action to ensure cows (No RGBH) and chickens (cage-free eggs) have more dignified lives and that many of the ingredients in their ice cream are sourced through 'fair trade' they have not as of yet taken action to ensure the farmworkers who put the cream in ice cream are treated with dignity and respect. Ben & Jerry's is also important to farmworkers because it purchases 100% of its cream from St. Albans Cooperative farms where many (if not the majority) of Vermont's 1,200 - 1,500 dairy farmworkers are employed.
We have invited Ben & Jerry's to join the Milk with Dignity Program, adapted from the Coalition of Immokalee Worker's (CIW) world-renowned Fair Food Program that has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of Florida farmworkers, includes 5 essential elements include:
* Farmworker-Authored Code of Conduct: farmworkers’ definition of the human right to work with dignity and fair housing;
* Farmworker Education: Guarantees workers’ the right to receive education about their rights under the Code of Conduct;
* Third Party Monitoring Body: Monitors, enforces and audits farmer compliance with Code of Conduct; receives worker complaints and addresses grievances; creates improvement plans to address violations; enforces consequences for non-compliance
* Economic relief: Participating corporations restore economic justice in the supply chain paying an extra premiumdirectly to both farmworkers AND farmers
* Legally-binding Agreements: Participating Corporations (Ben & Jerry's) sign a legally binding agreement that defines the program as an enforceable contract under the law
Farmworkers have decided the time has come to build a movement to call upon Ben & Jerry's to commit to protecting the rights of the workers who put the CREAM in "Vermont's Finest" ice cream.
Migrant Justice is fiscally sponsored by Wheelock Mountain Farm, Inc -Thanks to Joe Golden from Triangulus and Chris Wohlers all your help on getting our first website and database up and running! -Thanks to Caleb Kenna and Chris Urban for sharing photos from the Golden Cage