Victory for Migrant Workers – Ben & Jerry’s Signs Milk with Dignity Agreement

by Migrant Justice

 

Ben & Jerry’s CEO and farmworker leaders X, Y,  Z sign the Milk with Dignity agreement in front of the company’s flagship scoop shop

On Tuesday October 3, farmworker leaders from Migrant Justice and the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s jointly signed the Milk with Dignity agreement.  The legally-binding contract establishes Ben & Jerry’s as the first company in the dairy industry to implement the worker-driven human rights program.  This momentous occasion marks the beginning of a new day for dairy, one that provides economic relief and support to struggling farm owners, in the form of a premium paid by Ben & Jerry’s, while ensuring dignity and respect for farmworkers.

Before putting his signature on the document, Migrant Justice spokesperson Enrique “Kike” Balcazar spoke to those assembled:

“This is an historic moment for dairy workers.  We have worked tirelessly to get here, and now we move forward towards a new day for the industry.  We appreciate Ben & Jerry’s leadership role and look forward to working together to implement a program that ensures dignified housing and fair working conditions on dairy farms across the region. And though this is the first, it won’t be the last agreement of its kind.”

The agreement has already made it onto the pages of the New York Times!

Today’s signing ceremony brings to a close more than two years of public campaigning by dairy workers and their allies, as well as intensive negotiations between Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s.  The agreement follows the “Human Rights Can’t Wait” speaking tour — which brought dairy workers to a dozen cities along the east coast — and comes just two days before the October 5th National Day of Action.  Migrant Justice is calling off the actions that were to take place at Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops around the country in order to focus on the coming work of implementing this ground-breaking agreement in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain.

Ben & Jerry’s implementation of the Milk with Dignity program will result in transformational changes to a troubled industry.

  • Farmworkers will see concrete improvements in wages, scheduling, housing, and health and safety protections
  • Farm owners will receive a premium on their milk and support in improving working conditions
  • Ben & Jerry’s can sell a product made with cream produced free from human rights abuses
  • Consumers — thousands of whom have called for this change — will be able to see their solidarity with farmworkers bear fruit in the form of a major company’s concrete commitment to promoting human rights through worker-driven social responsibility.

Developed by Vermont dairy workers, Milk with Dignity is modeled after the world-renowned Fair Food Program.  Through a series of 14 Buyer Agreements with major food corporations — from McDonald’s to Walmart — the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has transformed the Florida tomato industry.  Once considered ground-zero for modern day slavery in the United States, the tomato fields of Florida are now recognized as one of the best workplaces in U.S. agriculture.  The change has been accomplished through the CIW’s bold vision of “worker-driven social responsibility:” harnessing the market power of corporations to set conditions in their supply chains using standards and enforcement led by the workers themselves.

The Milk with Dignity Program will be implemented throughout Ben & Jerry’s dairy supply chain using the five essential elements of worker-driven social responsibility developed by the CIW:

  1. Farmworker-Authored Code of Conduct: Farms in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain must meet the standards defined by farmworkers in wages, scheduling, housing, health and safety, and the right to work free from retaliation;
  2. Farmworker Education: From day one, workers in the program will be educated on their rights under the code of conduct and how to enforce them.  Workers will become frontline defenders of their own human rights.
  3. Third Party Monitoring Body: The newly-created Milk with Dignity Standards Council (MDSC) will enforce the agreement by auditing farms’ compliance with the code of conduct, receiving, investigating and resolving worker grievances, and creating improvement plans to address violations.  The MDSC will work with farmers and farmworkers in order to problem-solve issues as they arise seeking to improve communication and participation in the workplace.  It may suspend a farm from the program if the farm is unwilling to meet the standards in the code of conduct, creating strong market incentives to improve conditions and make workers’ human rights a reality.
  4. Economic relief: Ben & Jerry’s will pay a premium to all participating farms in their supply chain. The premium provides workers with a bonus in each paycheck and serves to offset farms’ costs of compliance with the code of conduct.
  5. Legally-binding Agreement: Ben & Jerry’s has signed a legally-binding agreement that defines the program as a long-term contract enforceable under law.

On the strength of this structure, the Milk with Dignity program has garnered tremendous support.  The national Presbyterian church, representing millions of parishioners, issued a statement lauding the program.  15 renowned human rights organizations, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote in an open letter that Milk with Dignity “promises … transformational reforms for the dairy industry in Vermont, and presents a valuable opportunity for Ben & Jerry’s to establish itself as an industry leader.”  And the country’s largest labor union, the National Education Association, recently awarded Migrant Justice their prestigious César Chávez Civil and Human Rights Award.

This watershed moment is only the beginning.  As the program rolls out on the farms in Ben & Jerry’s supply chain, dairy workers will be preparing to expand Milk with Dignity to other companies.  Your support over the past years was crucial in getting to where we are today — join us for this next phase in the Milk with Dignity campaign!

Editorial note: Talking Union reported earlier this year on a successful campaign to protect Migrant Justice leader Enrique “Kike” Balcazar after he and two co-workers were arrested by ICE and slated for deportation. See https://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/support-justice-for-migrant-workers/

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Day Without Immigrants: The New Workers’ May Day

by Peter Olney and Rand Wilson

Food Production

The buzz about a Day without Immigrants on May 1, 2017 is growing. Spanish radio is already churning with calls for strikes, rallies and demonstrations on May 1. This movement recalls the giant mobilizations of May 1, 2006 that occurred in response to proposed draconian anti-immigrant federal legislation called the Sensenbrenner Immigration Bill.

May Day has its historic origins in the nineteenth century struggle for the eight-hour day. In many cities on May Day in 2006, the marches and rallies proved to be the largest in history. Industries that relied on immigrant labor were paralyzed as millions of workers responded to the call for a Day without Latinos (also called the Great American Boycott). Labor participated unevenly in these rallies and mostly in places where the membership in service unions was predominately Latino. This year, in the turmoil surrounding the Trump Presidency, May 1 could be a great opportunity for the labor movement to flex its muscles and build its future.

Labor’s participation is important to the future of American politics. For example, look at the history of politics in California. Turn back the clock 23 years to 1994 when then Republican Governor Pete Wilson faced a fierce re-election battle. He launched a “Trump-like” assault on “illegal” immigration replete with videos of masses of Mexicans streaming across the border and threatening California. It was a brazen racist ploy called Proposition 187, introduced to bolster his reelection bid. Union leaders in California faced a critical decision about whether to participate in the massive Los Angeles mobilization against Prop 187.

In a meeting of labor leadership, some union leaders argued that it was important not to participate in the Los Angeles’ May 1 march so as not to alienate “Encino Man” — the Reagan Democrats of the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere. In the midst of a heated discussion, AFL-CIO Regional Director David Sickler made a dramatic plea to Los Angeles’ trade unionists:

“If we don’t march with these Latin workers, we will lose the confidence and trust of whole generation of Latinos.”

Sickler’s argument won the day, and Los Angeles’ labor turned out for the march. That action, and many others, solidified the labor/Latino nexus. In one generation, California went from “Reagan-land” to solid Blue Democratic.

Again the same challenge faces labor, however now it’s on a national scale. And the opportunity for the labor movement is equally huge. Supporting the upcoming May 1 protests, strikes and other actions will clearly demonstrate that unions are ready to be a champion of the rising Latino demographic. Conversely, sitting on the sidelines will mark us as bystanders to racist repression.

Recently building trades labor leaders blindly and naively embraced Trump’s agenda by meeting with him at the White House just days after his inauguration and lauding his commitment to build infrastructure and oil pipelines — but with no commitment to pro-labor codes like prevailing wage or project labor agreements. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka — usually a strong voice for racial justice — recently embraced Trump’s talk of immigration reform after his speech to a joint session of Congress. Again, a major labor leader is blindly and naively playing into Trump’s racist rhetoric. These actions by the building trades and the leader of the AFL-CIO undermine the U.S. labor movement’s need to squarely be on the side of immigrants battling Trump’s racist rhetoric, executive orders and travel bans.

There are many possible levels of participation for labor and unions on May 1. Each union must determine what’s the most appropriate way to participate based on its members needs and consciousness. In California, SEIU’s United Service Workers West, representing over 60,000 janitors, security guards and airport service workers has announced on Facebook its support for a May 1 strike. The United Food and Commercial Workers, representing supermarket workers in Southern California and the hotel workers union (UNITE HERE) are both assessing their actions in California. California is fertile ground for these protests with a sympathetic and supportive political infrastructure and a demographic tidal wave that means that Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in the state — out numbering Anglos 39 to 38 percent.

These calls for strikes may snowball. On the hastily organized February 17 “Day without Immigrants,” tens of thousands of mostly Latin service workers in many cities and towns stayed home (in many cases with the support of their employers). Earlier in February, Comcast employees at the company’s headquarters walked out to march and rally against Trump’s immigration policies. There is no reason not to expect similar dramatic actions on May Day. The social fervor is such that strikes in certain sectors and workplaces are very possible and possible with relative impunity.

With the prospect of large rallies and marches on May 1, some other unions are talking about participating in an organized way — even if it means after work or on off shifts. Just visibly marching with banners and signs in support of immigrant rights would be important and impactful to the thousands of immigrants who will brave deportation to hit the streets. Unions at the national and local level have an opportunity to speak with one voice in defense of immigrants. In specific locations like Los Angeles, these unions and others may hold joint press conferences and public events. Equally important will be actions in the “heartland” where immigrants may feel more politically and organizationally isolated than on the coasts.

Some unions have already begun “Know Your Rights” solidarity trainings to prepare workers for Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) raids that could take place in the community and the workplace. Union halls could become “Sanctuary Sites” for the undocumented. And now is a timely moment for always appreciated contributions of money, materials and office space to immigrant rights groups.

In addition to SEIU’s United Service Workers West, several national political and immigrants’ rights groups are organizing for the May 1 Day Without Immigrants including: Solid (an open-source project offered by Brandworkers), Strike Core, Cosecha, and the Beyond the Moment March.

May 1 is the traditional international day of working class solidarity, a holiday born of the U.S. struggle for the eight-hour day. It can be reclaimed with gusto this year as a focused attack on the anti-immigrant policies of Trump. But more than that, it is a day to cement the alliance between labor and the immigrant working class.

Strangers Among Us

by Paul Garver

  • atkinsbookcoverimage

Some 200 million workers across the globe migrate across national borders searching for work.

At least 40 million migrants do not have documents allowing them to live or work in their host countries, while millions of others are “guest workers” bound to their employers and subject to expulsion if they are fired.

In the neoliberal global economic order, capital flows freely across the borders that constrain workers.   Whether “guest workers” or undocumented, migrants are among the most vulnerable and exploited people who do the indispensable tasks of feeding and caring for other people.

Like refugees, migrants are often blamed for a host of economic and social ills in the countries that depend on their agricultural, construction or domestic labor.  Politicians looking to score political points from their own xenophobic domestic constituencies find migrants and refugees tempting prey for vicious slanders. Donald Trump is a notorious perpetrator but is far from being the first chauvinist demagogue in the world.

Mexican native Diego Reyes, Sr. works the tobacco and vegetable fields in Sanford, NC.  He is a member of a relatively successful migrant worker organization, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee [FLOC].  As translated by his son Diego Reyes, Jr., a seminarian working for FLOC, he describes a reality all too often experienced by migrant workers in the USA and around the world.

It’s not only in Sanford [N.C.} but everywhere, all this propaganda against immigrants. People feel they’re stealing their jobs, that immigrants are bad people, drug mules, and criminals. It dehumanizes people. It’s not the stealing of jobs. The people came here because of the policies the U.S. implemented in the world.”

The Strangers Among Us: Tales from a Global Migrant Worker Movement documents the harsh conditions faced by migrant workers in Asia, Europe and North America.  Editor Joseph Atkins, a professor at the University of Mississippi, traveled with his wife to such far-flung locales as Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Buenos Aires, where he interviewed key activists supporting migrant worker organizing.  He also solicited contributing chapters from activists and scholars in the UK, Israel, China, Japan and India.  The result is a moving and kaleidoscopic survey of the social justice movements that are helping migrant workers organize throughout the world.

Here are a few examples of the innovative approaches taken by migrant workers and their supporters in various world regions illustrated in this compact and compelling book.
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The End of China’s Labor Regime?

by Kevin Lin

Workers at the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine on a 2013 strike for higher pay.

Ed. note:  The New York Times Business Day section (10 March 2016) included a feature article entitled “Not the Chinese Dream” by Owen Guo, that highlighted the inability or unwillingness of China’s 257 million [internal] migrant workers to occupy the thousands of vacant urban apartments that are weighing down the Chinese economy.  Kevin Lin’s article poses the structural causes that underlie this socio-economic crisis.

A key ingredient of China’s Post-Mao economic “miracle” is a labour regime entrenched in the export-oriented consumer manufacturing sector and premised on despotic exploitation, institutional discrimination and political exclusion of labour. It is built on the back of massive rural-to-urban migration in the context of a stagnant agricultural sector and rising disparity in rural-urban incomes from the 1990s. The rural migrants are not only placed under exploitative labour relations under the Party-state’s market liberalisation, but also institutionally discriminated against by the urban household registration system that denies them of permanent urban residency and entrenches the transient nature of their labour migration, and politically excludes  them from organising autonomous labour unions and asserting as an organised social force. This combination, by no means unique in the history of capitalist development, produces an abundant and seemingly endless supply of not only cheap and disposable but disciplined, fragmented and atomised labour. However, having help propel China into a global economic power, the reproduction of this labour regime is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

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Qatar: UN Human Rights Rapporteur exposes truth on migrant workers and calls for ILO standards to be met

ITUC OnLine

International Trade Union Confederation

International Trade Union Confederation

International unions are calling on the Qatar authorities to give an immediate response to the request for urgent reforms for migrant workers following a ten-day UN investigation in the country.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, welcomed the recommendations by Francois Crepeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, including the right to form and join trade unions, proper grievance procedures, a minimum wage and the abolishment of the kafala system.

“Despite claims by the Qatar authorities that they are cleaning up labour camps and clearing overcrowded deportation centres holding women and their babies, the UN Special Rapporteur has witnessed the horrific conditions facing migrant workers in Qatar and put forward strong recommendations that if implemented will make a real difference to the lives of migrant workers in Qatar,” said Sharan Burrow.

The UN recommendations were announced as FIFA President Sepp Blatter made his ‘courtesy’ visit to the Emir following the deaths of construction workers building World Cup infrastructure. Continue reading

New Reports Allege Widespread Human Rights Abuses in Temporary Worker Recruitment System

by Kenneth Quinnell

recruitment revealedLike many people who come from other countries to work in the United States, Juan José Rosales came to the U.S. to make a better life for himself, trading the prospect of a better financial situation for a temporary amount of time away from his homeland of Mexico. He said that a recruiter promised him that he would get between $7 and $8 an hour while working in the fair and carnival industry on an H-2B visa. And that’s when things went wrong.

Rosales said he paid about $500 in recruitment, visa and passport processing, lodging and transportation fees. He never saw that money again. Once in the United States, he was forced by the fair company to work weeks that frequently totaled more than 72 hours. His rate of pay worked out to about $3.75 per hour. He also lived in trailers with dozens of other people. The living facilities had no air conditioning, dirty bathrooms and lacked kitchens.

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China Worker Roundtable: A Reminder

by Paul Garver

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Chinese workers are continuing a wave of strikes for higher wages and, in some cases, for the right to elect their own local union officers.

At the same time, Hewlett-Packard and Apple have claimed that they are requiring their manufacturing suppliers in China, the largest of which is Foxconn, to correct numerous abuses, including excessive forced overtime, the abuse of student interns, and to promise to allow elections for local union committees.

China labor expert Eli Friedman has forcefully argued in The Jacobin that ultimately the liberation of workers in China can only arise from their self activity. He predicts that as manufacturers build new factories deeper in China’s interior, closer to the villages from which most of the new industrial workers are recruited, those workers are likely to demand greater political rights and social benefits. This would advance their industrial action to a new level of working class consciousness.

Three of the most prominent scholars of Chinese labor from around the world will join Eli Friedman in a roundtable discussion at 4:00 PM on Sunday March 17 at the CUNY Murphy Institute, 25 W 43rd St, 18th floor, Manhattan. The roundtable is moderated by Seth Ackerman of  Jacobin Magazine and is co-sponsored by Talking Union and by Labor Notes.

For more details, please click here. The event is free to the public, and all are welcome.