VT Farmworkers March on Dairy Farm Winning $1800 in Unpaid Wages and Pointing Out Deplorable Housing Conditions
Posted Fri, 05/16/2014 - 1:35pm
VT Farmworkers March on Dairy Farm Winning Over $1800 in
Unpaid Wages and Pointing Out Deplorable Housing Conditions
Ferrisburgh, VT-May 16, 9:30am -- On Friday morning Dairy Farmer Ray Brands of Ferrisburgh was greeted at his farm by a surprise visit from about 20 farmworkers and supporters holding a huge "Food Justice" banner and various "Milk with Dignity" signs. They were there to demand he pay unpaid wages and clean up his unlivable housing conditions. Victor Diaz, pointing to a camper in the distance, told the crowd, "I came to this farm over two years ago. I lived in that camper with 4 people. It was so small we couldn't even stretch our legs out when we slept." He continued, "The roof was leaking and you can see what the bosses solution was (pointing to the camper). He threw that tarp on top but that kept leaking of course. At one point we were sleeping with nylon over us so the water would run off us."
Victor and another co-worker walked off the job in protest on Thursday May 15th after getting their last paycheck. He explained the most recent reason that pushed them to leave, "We asked for better housing and now you can see what that was. It was this trailer (pointing to the trailer)." Diaz continued, "And then about 2 weeks ago when I was washing my clothes the stinky sewage started backing up and filling up the washing machine. We turned on the other faucets in the trailer and sewage poured out. It took the boss several days before he even responded and as you can see its still not totally fixed." Victor explained that he and 1 co-worker finally reached their limit deciding to walk off the job in protest.
The farmworkers and supporters staged what might well have been the first ever protest march down this iconic pastoral Vermont dirt road in Ferrisburg and a delegation entered the farm asking to meet with the boss. The farmer's son said, "Leave the premise now or we will call the police." The delegation retreated to the road and eventually had an opportunity for a direct exchange with the farmer. Victor shared, "I want my first paycheck that you withheld from me and we want the two paychecks you withheld from my co-workers." In a tense moment farmer Ray Brands asked to talk to Victor alone but the crowd refused. Victor said, "Go ahead and tell them what you said to me yesterday when you insulted me and threatened me for leaving." Brands grew uncomfortable, dodging the question but after a heated exchange he eventually conceded with VPR news microphone present. Brands agreed to pay all 3 worker's backwages totalling over $1800. He returned 20 minutes later handing over a check to Victor to the applause and cheers of farmworkers, supporter, and allies.
Victor told the crowd, "Now we see what is possible when we get together and demand our rights. My homework is now to spread this example to my brothers and sisters across Vermont." Migrant Justice spokesperson Abel Luna explained, "We won driver's licenses, we've won bias-free-policing and now its time to take that momentum and movement and focus on improving living and working conditions on Vermont's dairy farms." The organization says its farmworker members will be engaged in community dialogues and meetings this summer to define what 'dignified work and housing' would look like for dairy workers. They say part of this means exposing abuse but also partnering with farmers that are already doing the right thing.