Milked: A new report gives voice to immigrant dairy farmworkers in NYS

Milked: A new report gives voice to immigrant dairy farmworkers in NYS

More than 80 farmworkers at more than 55 farms across NYS contributed to “Milked,” a collaborative project between Workers’ Center of Central New York and the Worker Justice Center of New York, which was authored by a team of community leaders and academic scholars.

“The state of New York is one of the states that produces dairy products—for example,
cream, cheese, yogurt, milk—as well as fruit and vegetables, for the whole family, around the world,” says Crispin Hernandez, a member of the Workers’ Center of Central New York and plaintiff seeking the right to organize for New York farmworkers. “We, as farmworkers, feed everyone’s families, [but] the employers treat us like slaves: they don’t give us the necessary training, they intimidate us with the police, there are injuries at work that do not receive medical attention, physical assaults by supervisors, and people have even died. It’s not fair. The housing where we live in is in very bad condition, there are even cockroaches and bugs. Some of the employers pay the minimum wage and others do not. We work 6 days per week, 12 to 14 hours per day, and they don’t pay overtime. We don’t have the same rights as other workers, that is why we’re ghting for our right to organize. All of these injustices we are seeing today, it’s not fair. We are all human beings and we deserve respect and dignity. The time has come for all of this injustice to change.”

The report depicts a searing picture of the immigrant experience as employees at dairy farms. Low wages, long hours, dangerous conditions, isolated living conditions are among the conditions described.

For example,

  • Forty-eight percent of survey respondents report that they have suffered bullying or discrimination in the workplace.
  • Earnings hover just above the minimum wage.
  • Two-thirds of dairy farmworkers surveyed have experienced one or more injuries while on the job.
  • 48% of the respondents said that, despite their numerous job-related concerns, they have never raised a complaint to the boss, fearing employer retaliation and deportation.
  • At their on-farm housing, 58% report bug or insect infestations, 48% have no locks on their doors, 32% have holes in their walls or doors, and 32% have insufficient ventilation.

Injuries can be serious, even resulting in deaths. According to the report, in 2013, “Francisco Ortiz, originally from Veracruz, Mexico, was crushed to death by a skid steer loader while working on a small dairy farm in Ithaca, NY. His wife, Mayra, laments that her husband had long complained about the dangers of working with the ill-functioning machine that eventually took his life.”

Another farmworker, Lazaro, was charged by a bull at a different farm. His employer instructed him to wait in a chair for three hours until the milking was done. When he was finally taken to the hospital, he discovered he needed five stitches from his eye to his cheek, and had suffered from two broken teeth and two fractured ribs. He had never received training on how to handle bulls. He never received compensation for his missed days of work and was unaware he could apply for Workers’ Compensation. His employer fired him within the week.

The report recommends that NYS pass legislation to support the rights of immigrant workers to have fair and decent work, to organize, to participate in the community, to live in safe and dignified housing, and to participate in a safe and healthy workplace. They also recommend the creation of a worker-driven and independently monitored social responsibility program for New York dairy farms.

See here to read the full report.

Image credit: USDA ARS Image Gallery

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