Springing into action upon their release from prison, after an ICE crackdown on farmworker rights leaders, Enrique Balcazar, Zully Palacios and Migrant Justice are calling for a national day of action on April 4th at Ben & Jerry’s scoops to educate and activate consumers, while they wait for free ice cream, to tell Ben & Jerry’s that dairy worker’s human rights cannot wait. The dairy worker leaders call to action comes just days after hundreds of supporters flooded Ben & Jerry’s phone lines, marking Cesar Chavez day on Friday 3/31, demanding Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim join and implement the worker-led Milk with Dignity Program as he promised dairy workers nearly two years ago.
Migrant Justice Speaks at Harvard and Mobilizes Supporters to Demand Ben & Jerry’s Follow Through on 2015 Commitment to Secure Dairy Worker’s Human Rights
Thanks to deep solidarity from thousands of allies in Vermont, Massachusetts, and across the country, Migrant Justice leaders Enrique “Kike” Balcazar and Zully Palacios were free from ICE detention in time to participate as planned in Harvard Law School’s 2017 conference: “Just Food? Forum on Labor across the Food System.” The conference featured a full day of thoughtful discussion and workshops led by a diverse array of speakers ready to engage in dialogue about worker justice in food industries.
Among the attendees were a group of dairy worker leaders from New York state, including Victor from Alianza Agricola, who told participants in an earlier workshop:
“Our quality of life simply starts with our housing. The farmer says, “we provide them with free housing.” Yet we have situations with windows are broken, water smells horrible, the bathrooms are destroyed. This is no way to live as humans. There are a lot of times when one of the workers will be sick, but they don’t care if you’re sick. If you have a fever, you have to work, you have to work. On one of my farms, I got sick two different times… there’s a policy to give three days notice if you want a day off, but no one knows when you are going to get sick.”
Victor could just as well have been describing Vermont dairy conditions in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain, as Migrant Justice members have experienced these conditions for years.
Later in the day, Enrique “Kike” Balcazar, just released from jail after ICE targeted him for his human rights work, led off a panel titled “Milked: Migrant Dairy Labor and American Dreams.” Joined on the panel by faculty from Vermont Law School who also illuminated legal and policy issues relevant to Vermont dairy workers’ lives, Enrique told conference participants about his own experience as a dairy worker:
“Working on a dairy farm, I needed to get up at 3am and work for 12 to 15 hours a day without any days off. Something really hard to face was when I received my first paycheck. I saw that the pay was only $4 per hour. Seeing that check of course made me really sad. At that time I didn’t know or understand the whole situation around me. But about three months of working at the farm, I met the organization Migrant Justice.”
Enrique went to on explain Migrant Justice’s member-led organizing model and its process to develop the Milk with Dignity Program in response to common workplace problems Vermont dairy workers identified. He noted, after detailing some of the human rights abuses workers frequently confront on dairy farms, that “None of this is to say that all of the farms are bad. Our worker-to-worker surveys found farms where workers are treated with dignity. That is actually what inspired us to build a program that would make those fair conditions a reality on all of the dairy farms.” After hearing lively questions and support from the audience, Enrique invited participants to put theory into action by joining Migrant Justice in a delegation later to ask the manager at Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop in Harvard Square to call on the company CEO to join the Milk with Dignity Program without further delay.
Before the conference wrapped up, everyone heard from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Florida-based organization of tomato workers who built the groundbreaking Fair Food Program, which has been the inspiration and model for Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Program.
The conference organizers also made space for all to hear about ICE’s recent repression of worker leaders in farmworker communities. Enrique, Zully and Dolores from New York state’s farmworker women group, Mujeres Divinas, spoke about their individual experiences facing ICE’s harsh tactics. Zully heard that several allies who were present in the room were among the many whose support and fight for human rights and freedom led them to sign petitions, write letters, and turn up on a cold, rainy Boston day. She said:
“I have nothing but words of thanks to all of you and everyone who offered us words of support to everyone who offered support while we were detained for those eleven long days. There were a nightmare for me and really for any person . . . . For me, everything that’s happened has only made me stronger to continue fighting for our human rights. I just want to thank you again for all of you who supported us while we were detained, who signed a petition, wrote a letter, all of that love we felt from inside. I also want to say, as Kike said, this is just started. I want to ask all of you for your unity as we continue to fight for our human rights.”
Moved to offer their support, many conference participants took a group picture showing their solidarity with Enrique, Zully, Dolores, and farmworker leaders around the country facing repression and targeting by ICE.
After the conference wrapped up, Migrant Justice was joined by allies from Cosecha, who fought hard and share in the credit for Enrique and Zully’s freedom today, Alianza Agricola, Mujeres Divinas, the Worker Justice Center of New York, and others. Enrique and Zully led a delegation to the Harvard Square Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop.
About 30 supporters came out to show their solidarity with Vermont’s dairy worker communities.
They delivered letters asking the shop owner to join Migrant Justice in calling on Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim to sign the Milk with Dignity agreement so that a real human rights program will be implemented in the company’s supply chain without further delay.
The shop owner took the time to hear from Enrique about the realities that Vermont dairy workers face and about the solution they have built in the Milk with Dignity Program. The shop owner was supportive, and he committed to letting the company CEO know.
But imagine if Ben & Jerry’s CEO hears this message not just from one shop owner, but from many who agree that workers toiling to produce the cream for the ice cream they sell deserve Milk with Dignity? And not just from shop owners, but from hundreds of committed, conscientious Ben & Jerry’s consumers?
The perfect chance to do that is coming right up! This Tuesday, April 4, is free cone day at all Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops around the country. Vermont’s farmworkers do not yet have Milk with Dignity, and are calling on allies to help us let the company know the time for human rights in the company’s dairy supply chain is now.
Please take a look at the Milk with Dignity action pack, get together with your friends, family, local organization, and other allies, and put together your own action at a scoop shop near you! Let us know how we can help you organize an action in your community!