#5: Understanding Migrant Workers’ Situation

This week, I researched migrant workers. The issue of migrant labor is extremely important to Vermont, since dairy is 70% of our agricultural industry. Some industries that are based off of dairy farms are milk companies, butter companies, and ice cream companies. One ice cream company in particular is receiving a strong crowd of protesters.

I found a podcast by VPR called Farm Worker Advocates Target Ben and Jerry’s. The Milk with Dignity Program, an organization is standing up for migrant worker equality, has been protesting against Ben and Jerry’s. This program created by Migrant Justice is demanding for Ben and Jerry’s to try to help migrant workers get decent wages, education, and fair housing. Enrique Balcazar, a member of Migrant Justice said that the people behind Milk with Dignity believe in standing up for human rights, something that doesn’t depend on where you come from and if you can legally belong somewhere or not. Milk with Dignity wants Ben and Jerry’s to act upon this belief and make a difference.

Ben and Jerry’s Director of Social Missions Rob Mahalick says that Ben and Jerry’s are trying to help these migrant workers behind the scenes, something public doesn’t know about. They have a program called Caring Dairy that asks farms that supply their company about the living conditions of their migrant workers and about their wages and hours. The program is voluntary, and “has no teeth” according to Migrant Justice, meaning it isn’t very aggressive and doesn’t do much to help these migrant workers. This program affects 85 farms, all that supply their company, and they believe that their approach is the best way to make a difference. When Mitch Wertlieb, the interviewer from VPR, asked why they weren’t going with Milk with Justice’s plan and changing the lives of migrant workers on the 800 dairy farms in Vermont, he said that it was a complex issue that involves a lot of people, which means it’s hard to accommodate for everyone.

I wonder why Milk with Justice is only targeting housing, wages, and education? What sets these issues aside from food and health care?

As I continued to research migrant labor in Vermont, I discovered a article called Why Farmer Chris Wagner Hired Migrant Workers to Milk His Cows. It’s about a migrant worker who accidentally calls 911 instead of dialing 011, the start of an international call, while trying to call someone back home in Mexico. The immigrant tells the dispatcher, “‘No speak English’ ” and hung up, immediately causing two cops and two Border Patrol agents, who were to act as translators, to come rushing to the scene. When they got there, the cops were supposedly blocked by the farmer, Chris Wagner, who claims he panicked because ” ‘…it looked like they really had an agenda of raiding [his] place’ “. He was then put in handcuffs while the Boarder Patrol agents found the illegal immigrant workers and took them into custody, eventually deporting them.

Chris mentions many times through out the article about the willingness to work. He says how the locals need jobs too, but they didn’t understand the around the clock maintenance that dairy farms require. Only the immigrants were supposedly coming to him about “‘not getting enough hours’ “.

At one point in the article, the Solidarity Project member Brendan O’Neill mentioned this incident being a message to immigrants, if you call 911, you get deported. What happens if you are hurt and you need to call 911 but can’t risk loosing your job because you’re an illegal immigrant? What happens to those who need to go to the hospital but will be deported if they interact with anyone connected to the law enforcement?

After I read and listened to those two articles, I thought about what unites the people who are standing up for the rights of migrant workers. One commonality was wanting to make a difference. That’s what Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project is trying to do. Other organizations trying to help give immigrants certain improved aspects of their lives are Milk with Justice and Vermont Migrant Education project.

Another reason to unite to help these immigrants is because they are supporting our economy. Farmers have consistently said that these migrant employees are hard working and will take many of the jobs that most Americans won’t, even if they’re jobless.

I also noticed that certain details of this issue are what drives people away from helping them. One of those details is where the employees come from and what law enforcement should do if an emergency happens or they find them on a farm. Many will say that because they are illegal residents, it is law enforcement job to deport them back to their country.

A second topic that stops people from really coming together and making a substantial difference is how complex and how many layers this issue effects. From law enforcement to dairy industry, economics to jobs, citizenship to education, human rights and even more. It makes solving the problem very hard and most people don’t want to try and end up possibly making an even bigger mess.

I understand that I have only scratched the surface on this vast and elaborate issue. But this only makes me even more interested and ready to learn all I can about what the story really is.









By Mitch Wertlieb & Melody Bodette. “Farm Worker Advocates Target Ben & Jerry’s.” RSS. N.p., 12 May 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Bromage, Andy. “Why Farmer Chris Wagner Hired Migrant Workers to Milk His Cows.” Seven Days. N.p., 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Strawberry Pickers by Noborder Network


Elsa Lindenmeyr

4 Responses to “#5: Understanding Migrant Workers’ Situation

  • Nate Archambault
    7 years ago


    It was great to get to chat with you a bit this past weekend on Mt. Philo. It certainly appears like you have done some quality research. You’re right that this is an extremely complex issue with multiple layers and multiples parties with “stakes in the game.”

    Your question, “I wonder why Milk with Justice is only targeting housing, wages, and education? What sets these issues aside from food and health care?”, is particularly relevant, and got me thinking about the same question. is the reason that these are the issues that are easiest to target? Are they the first issues that need to be addressed? Is this where the most effective change can be made?

    I look forward to continue to read your posts. They are always thoughtful and extremely interesting.

  • Hi Nate,
    Thank you for that last comment! I had a lot of fun meeting you and talking to you outside of this blog.
    Those are great questions and ones I will look into as I try to answer my own question.
    I really appreciate your feedback.

  • Elsa,

    I enjoyed talking to you at the summit of Mt. Philo and I look forward to collaborating more in the future. Also, I read that article, “Why Farmer Chris Wagner Hired Migrant Workers to Milk His Cows” and I was utterly bewildered. The idea that pushing one wrong button can completely alter your life is almost unimaginable. I would never think of the severity of one wrong number pushed on a number pad. Later you also went into detail about migrants fearing the hospital because they don’t want to be deported so my question to you is, what do you think police should do in cases like these where illegal immigrants are discovered by accident? I had a conversation with my professor at the college regarding this same topic and we weren’t able to come up with a good solution.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Hi Elsa,

    I really liked following your train of thought here. I think you ask very valid questions about why Milk with Justice is only focusing on certain aspects of human rights and safety, and I wonder if the answer to that will also help you understand your problem a little more–there might be barriers to addressing those issues that aren’t immediately obvious. I also think your question about undocumented immigrants needing healthcare but unable to reach out to authorities is extremely important. It seems like you have a really good sense of the enormous complexities of your issue, and if at some point you wanted to narrow it down that might be a good thing to focus on. Finally, you mention that some people believe that it is law enforcement’s job to deport those people. I wonder what the flip side to that argument is…what do people have to say about other responsibilities held by law enforcement officers?


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