On Thursday, Vermont dairy workers gathered outside of Lyons Hall to educate the Boston College community as a part of the “Milk with Dignity” campaign. The event, which was sponsored by Real Food BC and a number of other organizations, was meant to gather support against what many migrant workers see as unfair and unjust working conditions on dairy farms.
The campaign was created in 2014, in order to put pressure on Ben and Jerry’s to sign the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct. This code is supposed to rectify many abuses reported by dairy farm workers.
A number of migrant workers spoke at the event, some in English, and some with the assistance of a Spanish-speaking translator. They told attending students about the problems they and other migrant workers faced and explained why they were campaigning.
“I was forced to work with a dangerous chemical,” explained Eric, a migrant dairy worker “and wasn’t given any training or safety equipment.” Eric went on to list the various health issues associated with this exposure such as blurry vision, trouble breathing, and asthma that he still feels. He cited lack of workplace safety precautions and training as a primary cause of this incident.
The campaign argues that migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable group, who often are threatened with deportation or detention by employers.
In addition to the speeches and group conversations, the protest included displays of rally signs made by the sponsoring clubs and petitions for the release of a detained migrant dairy worker. During the rally, supporters were also called to sign two letters. One is to Ben and Jerry’s calling for change, and one is for University President Fr. Leahy to encourage him to recognize the abuses faced by those who produced many of BC’s milk products.
One of the main concerns of this movement is that, according to in-state surveys, around 40% of dairy workers do not get paid minimum wage; while this is legal under certain U.S. Department of Labor exemptions, many workers seek to change those laws. Other concerns are a lack of days off, poor living conditions including unsafe water, and a hazardous work environment.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of the company, have not owned the company since they were bought out in 2000 by Unilever. Ben and Jerry, who are themselves long time supporters of fair-trade and other liberal causes, are not involved in this disagreement.
The Migrant Justice representatives at the rally implored the students to help transfer power from the company to the workers, using the combined powers of employees and customers.
“We’re the passengers and Ben and Jerry’s, they’re the drivers…” said one speaker, “...but we want to be the drivers.”
Milk with Dignity has called on Ben and Jerry’s to take action by Oct. 5, when they plan to host a day of action. Real Food BC says they are currently in the process of planning events for that day.