Migrant VT Farm Workers Go On Strike For Back Wages Owed

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(The VT Migrant Farm Worker Solidarity Project asked me to post this here, which I’m glad to do)

VT Farm Workers End 3 Day Strike in Frustration. Workers denounce Mack Farm and file $4,494.00 back wage claim.

Charlotte, Vermont-November 18-. “We told him we’re not working and we’re not leaving until you pay us,” explained, a 27 year old migrant farm worker woman from San Isidro, Chiapas, Mexico after going on strike last Saturday with her boyfriend and father at Mack Farm in Charlotte.

The workers are owed $4,494.00 in back wages for the previous months work and since beginning employment there last January they claim the farmer owes them $8,344.00. “He is always late with pay and sometimes pays us half of what he owes us, sometimes the checks bounce, and sometimes he gives us nothing at all. Then he tries to run you from the farm. He owes others who got frustrated and already left the farm,” explained the worker.

The 3 workers ended their 3-day strike on Monday night to stay with friends and were fortunate to find work at another farm within a couple days. They filed a back wage claim with the Vermont Department of Labor yesterday.

Background

On Friday November 12th, the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project received a call from a worker on the farm. She had called months earlier with a similar complaint. On Saturday, after the Solidarity project reminded David Mack that the workers had been promised payment by 12 noon he hung up the phone saying, “This conversation is over”.

On Monday, an anonymous source called the Solidarity Project and shared that when he told a group of unemployed workers there was work at Mack farm one worker replied, “Mack Farm, no way, I’ll never work there again.” It turns out the worker is owed roughly $3,000.00 from Mac. The Solidarity Project is working with the farm worker community to track him down to help him file a back wage claim.

Today is a National Day of Action Against Wage Theft (www.iwj.org/index.cfm/national-day-of-action-against-wage-theft) and today the VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project stands with this family to publicly denounce Mack Farm . “We are aware that neither Mack Farm nor any dairy farmer is getting rich right now,” said Natalia Fajardo co-coordinator of the community organizing project at the Solidarity Project. “However, in this well documented case that spans a number of years Mack farm must be singled out for their consistent wage theft.”

Just last year the Solidarity Project received a similar complaint about Mack Farm. Workers were owed thousands of dollars and went on strike. Some of the workers left without being paid and in the process the Solidarity project learned that there were a number of other former Mack employees who had also left without pay. A clip from the interview they conducted at that time is available on line at: http://www.vtmigrantfarmworker…

After consulting with a group of anonymous dairy farmers, the Solidarity Project learned that some farmers are aware and concerned about Mack’s disregard for workers and fear he makes all farmers look bad. Although, non-payment of workers is not a problem on the majority of VT dairy farms there are a handful of other back wage claims in Vermont that have been or will be filed in the coming weeks after repeated failed attempts to appeal directly to farmers.

“This isn’t a simple case of a farmer who falls behind on pay once or twice and negotiates some agreement with workers. This is the way this farm is run. We are hopeful that the farming community might find ways to denounce Mack because he makes other farmers look bad.” Farjardo continued, “This is a messy situation. On the one hand dairy farms are going under creating an environment where a handful of employers like Mack are more likely to exploit workers. While on the other hand Gregg Engles, CEO of Dean Foods that controls 70-80% of the Northeast Dairy Market, averages $21.3 million in compensation packages. Trickle up economics lines the pockets of CEO’s and systematically exploits the hard work of both farm workers and farmers. This case is a serious reminder for the urgent need for bold steps in economic, agricultural and immigration reforms.”

More information at: www.vtmfsp.org; 802-825-1609; vtmfsp@gmail.com

14 thoughts on “Migrant VT Farm Workers Go On Strike For Back Wages Owed

  1. …for highlighting one of Vt.’s ongoing ‘little secrets’ that

    needs to be addressed seriously by this next administration and legislature.

    Now here’s something for Sorrell to pay attention too.  How are these workers’ going to pay their soda taxes if they don’t get their paychecks?

    Curious, isn’t it, what our AG pays attention too and doesn’t pay attention too???

    I’d say we have 2 stories here that tie together.

  2. I’ll note that, often, with posts such as these (that I guess I’ll define as “more-fringe” issues that many or even most or at least a lot of folks find striking or important) there’s often a handful of comments such as “glad you brought this to my attention” or “thanks for mentioning this important issue” and, generally, that’s the end.

    Few people, ’round these parts any way, wanna debate something like “do these migrant workers deserve the wages promised to them?”.  I guess in general that’s a good thing; though I’m sure with the volume of traffic that GMD gets there are plenty of people who, sadly, answer in the negative on that question and I wish they would speak up, in hopes that maybe someone would frame the answer in a way that speaks to them and helps them understand the importance of labor justice issues such as this.

    Anyway, as easy and great as it is for hundreds, if not thousands, of people to read a piece like this and either post a comment or at least think to themselves “gee, I’m glad I know that now”, I’d like to challenge some of you to take the next- super easy- step, if you’re capable.  There’s contact info at the end of the press release, why not shoot VMWSP an email or call and say “what can I do to help?”.  Maybe they’ll say “call this rep” or “call the governor” or something very, very simple like that- and you’ll have spent 5 or 8 minutes of your life helping to make the lives of some incredibly vulnerable, unfortunate, well-meaning and hard-working people a little bit better.  Or – again there’s contact info right at the bottom of the piece above – recognize that projects such as this require (or at least can use) almost infinite amounts of resources, and are used to getting by as best they can with practically none: maybe you could spare $10, $50, or whatever, and it would literally mean gas for a volunteer to drive to a far-flug farm to get first-hand info from a migrant farmer in need of help or it would mean an entire month of paying for a phone line which serves as a life-line to these farmers.

    All I’m suggesting, in the end, is that you consider reading this piece and saying “thanks for bringing it to my attention” as a first- albeit important- but merely first step towards the littlest bit you could do that would translate very, very easily into a huge help towards alleviating these worker’s struggles.  Cheer, and solidarity.

  3. Great to see a dialogue about this issue.  For those who want to hear more directly from workers there are a series of audio interviews here:

    http://www.vtmigrantfarmworker

    For those who are educators:

    http://www.vtmigrantfarmworker

    For those who speak spanish this is a newsletter that we worked with a group of workers on to publish and distribute in order to improve communication within their own communities:

    http://www.vtmigrantfarmworker

  4. thanks for this

    I’m on the research team for the Farm-to-Plate project (VT Sustainable Jobs Fund) and ag labor issues are part of the mix.

    http://www.vsjf.org/project-de

    I will forward this piece and links to the VT Migrant Farm Worker Solidarity Project to Ellen Kahler at the VSJF.

  5. The right discussion is, “How do we make distributors pay a rate that reflects responsible labor conditions?”, not “How do we make farmers pay their workers when their revenues are controlled by a monopsony?”

    One idea is to control dairy production as states like Wisconsin and New Jersey do. First, start with a requirement that all fresh milk originates in Vermont. Second, require the farmers to pay minimum wage, register the workers, etc. Third, if distributors like Dean Foods don’t like it, tell them to get out of town. I sense that a local company could arise that would pay its CEO only $1 Million a year to distribute milk. (Can I volunteer?)

    Another notion is using tax policy: for example, put a value add tax for wage replacement on any distributor buying milk from farmers who don’t pay minimum wage, with a 10%-20% penalty processing fee attached). Essentially, make it cheaper for them to pay reasonable rates.

    We can set the policy that in Vermont, we pay the workers and farmers a reasonable rate and the distributors can get back to the 2% margins they deserve for their part in the go-to-market process. Or, we can keep talking about trying to get illegal immigrants their fair wage from desperate farmers when they can’t even raise their hands to get noticed without being deported.

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