Workers rights threatened by guest worker proposal in Congress

The following appeared as an op-ed in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus on August 5th, 2017

A bill is quietly wending its way through Congress that would seriously hurt Vermont, our farmers, and the workers who sustain the state’s $1.3 billion dairy industry.  

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee recently adopted an amendment to the 2018 homeland security spending bill that would expand H-2A to include dairy farms.  Though there are more votes needed before this measure could become law, last week’s committee vote represents a step towards the expansion of this dangerous anti-worker program.  The creation of a new legal path for Vermont farms to hire migrant workers may sound like a welcome option, but in fact, passage of the amendment would be a step backwards. It would exclude and displace the women and men currently sustaining Vermont’s dairy farms, rather than grant status to the existing labor force and recognize our farmworker neighbors as equals under the law.

Announcing the "Human Rights Cannot Wait" Tour!

Just over a month ago, Jostein Solheim, the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, publicly reassured hundreds of farmworkers and their fair food allies -- at the culmination of their 13-mile march to the company's factory in Waterbury, VT – that Ben & Jerry’s is “ready to go” when it comes to Milk with Dignity.

And yet the corporation, known by many for its professed progressive values, still has yet to follow through on its commitment to protect the fundamental human rights of dairy workers in its supply chain by signing the Milk with Dignity Agreement. The Milk with Dignity Program is in fact ready to go, and designed to secure economic justice in the dairy industry by requiring corporations, like Ben & Jerry’s, to pay a price premium that goes to providing farmworkers and farmers economic relief and direct support to comply with the Program’s human rights based Code of Conduct.  The Code of Conduct requires farms to respect workers’ fundamental rights or lose sales to participating buyers.

To keep the pressure on Ben & Jerry’s to honor its commitment, Migrant Justice farmworker members and allies are hitting the road for the big Human Rights Can’t Wait Tour in September. From Vermont to New York City, to Boston, to DC and Philadelphia along the 1000 + mile tour route, workers will be informing the public exactly what’s inside that pint of Ben & Jerry’s when it comes to human rights conditions for dairy workers. The Tour will culminate in a national day of action on September 25th, and we need your support to make it happen.

Truthout: “A Worker-Driven Model for Supply Chain Dignity Emerges”... and Ben & Jerry’s Can Make it a Reality. But Will They?


Photo by Jonathan Leavitt

Labor journalist Jonathan Leavitt embedded himself in Migrant Justice’s recent 13-mile march for Milk with Dignity. Together with hundreds of farmworkers and supporters, he witnessed an unanticipated yet welcome turn of events at the climax of the march. In a recent in-depth article for popular online news site Truthout, he captures the moment:

“Speaking to the farmworkers assembled before his production facility, Ben & Jerry's CEO Jostein Solheim said, "We have all the key pillars of the program defined and clear, we've got the right incentive structure for workers and farmers, and Ben & Jerry's is ready to go."

"Sign it now! Sign it now!" the crowd of several hundred farmworkers and allies chanted."

In all the commotion, someone from the crowd stepped forward and handed the CEO a pen and, appearing to concede, he signed a huge blown up copy of a letter written by 15 major human rightsorganizations, including the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, calling on Ben & Jerry’s to join the program. This encouraging -- though ultimately only symbolic -- gesture left many in the crowd wondering if the long-anticipated Milk with Dignity Program was now a reality.

As summer flies by, the days turn to weeks since Ben & Jerry’s reaffirmed its unfulfilled pledge to join the Milk with Dignity Program.  As many Vermonters are cooling off with a dip in a swimming hole and a scoop of their favorite ice cream, farmworkers labor for 60 to 80 hours a week through the sweltering heat without the human rights agreement they’ve been fighting for for years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"If you want to remember me, organize"

 

On Friday June 30th, Vermont farmworkers Esau and Yesenia were set free after another community-powered campaign.  The Border Patrol arrest of Yesenia and Esau -- just hours after they led a 13-mile march calling on Ben & Jerry’s to stand up for the human rights of dairy workers in its supply chain -- generated a mass response of outrage. Three rallies across Vermont, national headlines, 1,600 emails to ICE, dozens of letters of support, and over 50 supporters chanting outside the immigration courthouse in Boston were all decisive factors persuading the judge to release the two on bail.

The release of Yesenia and Esau came one day before Migrant Justice leaders Enrique “Kike” Balcazar and Zully Palacios, both targeted and arrested by ICE just months ago, received the National Education Association’s (NEA) distinguished “César Chávez Civil and Human Rights Award” on behalf of Migrant Justice.  Zully and Kike accepted the award at the NEA’s annual conference to a standing ovation from over a thousand teachers from across the country.

The NEA, the nation’s largest union, also honored Migrant Justice with this newly released video, as this powerful group of educators pledged their support to stand with Migrant Justice in its campaign to get Ben & Jerry’s to practice what it preaches by joining the Milk with Dignity Program without further delay.

“César Chávez notably said ‘If you want to remember me, organize.’ Migrant Justice embodies his spirit and carries his torch forward,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Migrant Justice is organizing farmworkers to address the challenges they face and bringing about systemic change to improve and advance their fundamental human rights. They are a national model for their cutting-edge human rights organizing and concrete victories. Migrant Justice motivates us, inspires us through their deeds and actions, and embodies what is just and right about César Chávez.”

Presbyterian Church to Ben & Jerry's: "I urge you, do not delay any longer."

On June 17th Vermont farmworkers led about 250 people on a pilgrimage through Vermont’s working rural landscapes with a powerful national call to action for human rights in hand, walking 13 miles from Vermont’s State House to the Ben & Jerry’s plant in Waterbury.  The march placed dairy workers’ campaign for human rights in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain on the national center stage piquing interest from coast (Washington Post) to coast (San Francisco Chronicle) under one banner:

“Scores of farm workers, activists march on Ben & Jerry’s”

Now, on the heels of the march, Vermont farmworkers’ tireless efforts and sacrifices for justice and dignity in the dairy industry are inspiring prominent leaders in faith communities across the nation and moving them to stand in solidarity with Vermont dairy workers.

Farmworkers and Allies March 13 Miles to Ben & Jerry’s Calling for Milk with Dignity

Check out this must-see 3 minute video of the March for Milk with Dignity!

In the early morning light, at 7am on Saturday June 17th, nearly 150 farmworkers and supporters gathered in front of the Vermont State House gearing up for what would be an historic day. Nearly two years to the day when Ben & Jerry’s made its still-unfulfilled public commitment to Milk with Dignity, Farmworker organizer Enrique “Kike” Balcazar kicked off the action:

“Today, we are marching 13 miles to Ben & Jerry’s to make sure they make good on their promise they made two years ago to join and implement the Milk with Dignity Program, because our human rights cannot wait a single day longer.”

Read more to see photos from the march!

Enrique Balcazar: "Why I'm Marching to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Plant"

"The first time I saw my dad after eight years apart, I couldn’t believe how much he had aged. When he had left our home in Mexico to come to the United States, he was still a young man. After eight years of toiling on a Vermont dairy farm—sending money home so my siblings and I could go to school—his face looked weathered, worn, and tired."

You have to check out this must-read history of the Milk with Dignity campaign and Vermont farmworker's fight for human rights, written by former dairy worker and community leader Enrique "Kike" Balcazar!  Now on the front page of popular food magazine Civil Eats, Kike's essay charts his path from coming to Vermont at 17 years old to join his father on a dairy farm, to marching on the Ben & Jerry's factory tomorrow, to demand that the company make good on its two-year-old commitment to join dairy worker's Milk with Dignity program.

Will Ben & Jerry's Protect Dairy Workers' Rights? Announcing the March for Milk with Dignity on June 17th!

Summer is on its way. It’s heating up in Vermont and farmworkers are calling on allies and consumers across the nation, as we roll into ice cream season, to turn up the heat on Ben & Jerry's by joining us on the March for Milk with Dignity on June 17th!

Please sign up for the march here and share on facebook here.

Saturday, June 17th marks the two-year anniversary of Ben & Jerry’s commitment to join Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program.  Unfortunately however, for two years there’s been lots of talk, but no action by Ben & Jerry’s to do what they said they would do--protect the human rights of dairy workers in their supply chain!

As you will see below, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, right now, is not just packed full of chocolate, marshmallows, nuts and pretzels--it’s main ingredient--cream, is also made with wage theftinhumane housing, and dangerous working conditions.  And farmworkers have not only been alerting Ben & Jerry’s for nearly eight years now about these conditions. They have also provided, in the Milk with Dignity Program, Ben & Jerry’s an opportunity to take effective action to both protect the rights of dairy workersand alleviate the markets downward pressure on the whole farm by providing farmers a premium for milk.

Wage theft on farm supplying milk to Ben & Jerry's

The Evolution of the Milk with Dignity Program: Vermont Dairy Workers’ 8 Year Struggle for Human Rights and a Voice in the Dairy Industry

 

December 22, 2009

Young farmworker José Obeth Santiz Cruz, from Chiapas, Mexico, is killed in a horrific--and wholly preventable--workplace accident on a Vermont farm that supplies milk to a cooperative that supplies milk to Ben & Jerry’s.

"Listen up Ben & Jerry's, because the people are rising up!"

This May Day, hundreds came together in Burlington for a beautiful and powerful “March for Dignity.” The action coincided with marches, rallies, and strikes across the country and around the world on International Workers' Day.  The streets echoed with chants calling on Ben & Jerry’s to make good on its June 19, 2015 commitment to source its milk in compliance with the the human rights of dairy workers: “Get up! Get down! Milk with Dignity’s comin’ to town!”

Outside company’s flagship store, Migrant Justice leader David Diaz called the ice cream maker to task for two years of delay in joining the Milk with Dignity program: 

“Listen up Ben and Jerry’s because the people are rising up. I am a dairy worker and I know the conditions in the industry; I know what it is to suffer in your supply chain. Thanks to the hard work of farmworkers -- the workers who are putting the cream in Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream -- you are making a delicious product sold around the world. But it is a product made without dignity."

Marchers delivered thousands of postcards to the company, taped together in a 150-yard-long chain that extended for a full city block, demanding that Ben & Jerry’s sign the Milk with Dignity program.

Read the full story and see more pictures here!

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