More than a dozen migrant workers and activists staged a demonstration at a Ferrisburgh dairy farm Friday morning, protesting poor worker living conditions and demanding back pay for three workers who recently quit in response to the quality of their housing.
Living conditions on the farm, which supplies the St. Albans Co-Op Creamery, were sub-par, according to Victor Diaz, who had quit the previous day. He talked about leaky roofs, close quarters, and, most recently, sewage flowing through the sink, shower and washing machine in the trailer that the workers shared.
As Diaz shared his story, Brendan O'Neill, an organizer with the group Migrant Justice, translated:
"[They] dug out the septic system as a solution to the problem when the sewage started leaving the faucets and showers. It's now being pumped in open air, on top of the surface."
Farmer Ray Brands eventually came out to meet the protesters, and handed Diaz three checks for the wages that Diaz and his coworkers said had been withheld.
"I just wish you would have given me two week's notice and we wouldn't have had this," Brands said. "Good luck."
Speaking after the demonstration, Brands didn't deny that there were sewage issues, but he said he was trying to get them fixed. He called the Migrant Justice demonstration "mob justice" and said that he himself felt abused by the surprise demonstration. He also said he didn't know that it was illegal to hold wages.
"Respect is a two-way street," Brands said. "I feel like I've been somewhat abused here, too."
Members of Migrant Justice said the action marks the beginning of a larger push among advocacy groups for improved living conditions for migrant workers throughout the state.