There are approximately 1,500 migrant farmworkers in Vermont’s dairy industry. Migrant Justice surveyed 172 farmworkers (about 10% of the population) in 2014 and found some surprising and disheartening numbers:
- The typical farmworker works 60-80 hours per week, 40% work 7 days a week, and 29% work 7 hours or more without a break.
- 40% of the surveyed farmworkers are paid less than the state minimum wage and 27% have never received a raise.
- 26% of those surveyed don’t receive paystubs and 20% have had their first week wages illegally withheld.
- In terms of housing, 16% say that housing is overcrowded and they aren’t allowed 8 hours in a row to sleep, 15% have insufficient heat, and 9% are without clean drinking water.
In light of these findings and the increasing marginalization of not only workers, but also farmers in an industry dominated by large corporations, Migrant Justice has launched a “Milk with Dignity” campaign, modeled on the success of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program in which retailers have agreed to pay a small premium on farm products in order to help improve farmworkers’ economic conditions. Vermont farmworkers are working with Migrant Justice to prioritize securing fundamental human rights to dignified work and quality housing, freedom of movement and access to transportation, equal treatment and freedom from discrimination, and access to quality healthcare. Farmworkers are currently trying to create a unified definition of what “dignified work and quality housing” should be across the state. That definition will be used to create “Milk with Dignity” standards, which farmers can commit to upholding on their dairy farms. A third party auditor will be created to ensure farmers are complying with the standards.