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Farmworker Advocates Confront Ben & Jerry's Board Members To Protest Labor Conditions

Kathleen Masterson
Dairy worker Yessica Sanchez and her children were among protestors outside the Ben & Jerry's offices on Tuesday. Sanchez says the unsanitary conditions at the farm have made her children sick.

Protesters with Migrant Justice confronted Ben & Jerry's board members outside the South Burlington office Tuesday morning, aiming to pressure the company to wrap up negotiations on an agreement that would outline minimum wages and labor conditions for dairy workers.

Miguel Alcudia works on dairy farm in Addison county, and he addressed the board members who stopped to listen outside the office entrance. 

"I want you to tell me, who are you going find to work 13-, 14-hours a day in the conditions that we work in? Who are you going to find who's going to work for wages we've worked in?" says Alcudia.

"And the housing, it's not dignified for humans habitation, it's not even dignified for animals to live in. It's infested, it's overcrowded."

Alcudia says other farm workers live without electricity or heat or running water.

The ice cream company and Migrant Justice have been negotiating the "Milk with Dignity" agreement for close to two years. Both parties have signed a non-disclosure agreement, so it's unclear what sticking points are holding up the process.

A handful of board members listened to several dairy workers and activists speak via an interpreter for more than 15 minutes.

"To get those last things resolved, we have this whole organization to go through, and it's not easy," says Jeff Furman, the Ben & Jerry's board director. "But there's a lot of understanding and concern for the workers struggle."

Credit Kathleen Masterson / VPR
Board members stopped to listen to the protesters speak about low wages and poor working conditions in farms that supply Ben and Jerry's milk.

Furman thanked the protestors for bringing the issue to the board's attention, and made clear that, to date, the board has not been heavily involved in the negotiations.

"This is a whole issue with farmers, with the [milk] coop, with Ben & Jerry's," says Furman. "So all we can say is what we, as board of directors, stand for. That we may be able to come up with today, but in actually getting something signed — those are documents, and lawyers, and all sorts of other folks — so I don't think that's going to happen today."

Video credit: Christopher Wiersema, Channel 17/Town Meeting TV 

Migrant Justice leaders say they plan to protest outside the building all day Tuesday and Wednesday, while the board member in town. And in addition to sharing a letter with the board members, the activists are distributing the outline of their requests to employees who pass by.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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