Advocates For Vermont Dairy Workers Plan Saturday March On Ben & Jerry's

Jun 16, 2017

Migrant Justice and other advocates for Vermont dairy workers plan to march in protest on Saturday in an effort to pressure Ben & Jerry's to come to an agreement on wage negotiations. 

Advocates will be marching 13 miles from the state capitol to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury.

Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry's have been negotiating for over two years toward an agreement on fair wages for dairy workers. Equally important for advocates are negotiations over a "code of conduct" which outlines working conditions that farm owners who supply Ben & Jerry's milk would have to abide by.  

Both parties signed a non-disclosure agreement, so they cannot reveal specifically which parts of the negotiations the groups are getting hung up on.

Migrant Justice is modeling their labor negotiations approach after the successful campaigns of the Florida group "Coalition of Immokalee Workers." The group pressured Taco Bell and other large corporate tomato buyers to pay higher wages and improve working conditions for tomato pickers, who had been living and working in exploitative conditions.

Lucas Benitez is a co-founder of that Coalition, and will be joining the Vermont dairy worker advocates at the march on Saturday.

"When the consumer hears about campaigns like the Campaign for Fair Food, or the campaign for Milk with Dignity," says Benitez, "they realize they're consuming a product that wasn't produced fairly and it wakes up their conscience."

Benitez says after years of negotiating with the tomato farm owners, his organization finally learned that appealing directly to the consumers was the most effective way to create change.

"When the consumer hears about campaigns like the Campaign for Fair Food, or the campaign for Milk with Dignity, they realize they're consuming a product that wasn't produced fairly and it wakes up their conscience." — Lucas Benitez, Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Benitez says that for the Florida tomato workers, the creation of a "code of conduct" that farm owners had to follow was even more important than the increase in salary.

He says the code of conduct guarantees protections that are vital for worker safety, health and dignity.

For example, in Florida law there was no requirement that employers provide shade to outdoor workers. But the workers were picking tomatoes under the hot sun for hours on end with no access to any shade reprieve. 

The "code of conduct" that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers negotiated with tomato buyers like Taco Bell required that farm owners provide workers with shade.

The same code created protections for women who were sexually assaulted, ensuring they could report the assaults and not be fired or have to work alongside their harasser.

Benitez says that his colleagues at Migrant Justice are learning from the Coalition's model of negotiating, and he's confident that they will eventually succeed in their Milk with Dignity Campaign.

"The question isn't if they will achieve it, the question is when they will achieve it," says Benitez. "The most important thing is that the workers are patient and persistent, like we were here in the Campaign for Fair Food in Florida." 

Migrant Justice released the following details about the march:

The march is scheduled for Saturday June 17th.