Migrant Justice heads to Hannaford's backyard

Recently, a delegation of dairy workers and organizers from Migrant Justice traveled to Maine to build support for the Milk with Dignity campaign in Hannaford’s backyard.

We traversed the state over several days, meeting with a dozen different organizations from across the spectrum of Maine’s civil society: labor unions, public health organizations, student groups, legal services, activists, and faith communities. Each group learned about the human rights abuses against farmworkers in Hannaford’s dairy supply chain and committed to support the campaign for Milk with Dignity.

The delegation also traveled to dairy farms and met with farmworkers across the state. We encountered the same dire conditions with which we are so familiar in Vermont – and the same desire for change. On one farm, a family with a young child had been forced to live without heat in their housing. On another, the workers work seven days a week, only resting a half shift every two weeks. Everywhere workers expressed fear of retaliation for speaking out and defending their rights.

The delegation was covered by several Maine press outlets, including the Maine Beacon.

The article features an interview with Vermont farmworker and Migrant Justice leader Yovanni, who described work on his dairy farm previously as a “life without dignity.”

“We used to work three shifts: 2am-8am, 10am-2pm and 3pm-10pm. There was never any agreed upon wage either. The boss just decided what he wanted to give us, and we were all paid below minimum wage. . . . We couldn’t fight for rights because we were afraid. What’s going to happen to us? Would we be fired? We were without any power.”

The farm is now in the Milk with Dignity program and Yovanni is one of over 250 farmworkers protected by the program’s farmworker-authored Code of Conduct and strong enforcement mechanisms. Since entering the program, the conditions have transformed: wages have increased, workers have more humane schedules and better health and safety outcomes, and housing has vastly improved. “We had to organize. We had to bring more workers together,” Yovanni reflected. “The program, once implemented, brought so many benefits.”

The change that Yovanni experienced – from a “life without dignity” to the current protections under Milk with Dignity – inspired him to travel to Maine and meet with workers and allies. On his journey back to Vermont, Yovanni reflected that the experience:

“The workers we met admire what we have accomplished and want the same opportunities on their farms. This trip strengthened my resolve to continue fighting for the expansion of Milk with Dignity.”

And the next step in that fight? Migrant Justice will embark on a regional speaking tour this fall, resuming the “Dignity Tour” that was cut short in March, 2020 due to the pandemic. The fall tour will be key to building pressure on Hannaford to join Milk with Dignity. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks and for the opportunity to host a stop on the tour!