Business & Economy

Advocates for migrant dairy workers focus on housing

Migrant farm worker Victor Diaz receives a check for back pay from farmer Ray Brands last week. Photo by Migrant Justice
Migrant farm worker Victor Diaz receives a check for back pay from farmer Ray Brands last week. Photo by Migrant Justice
Ferrisburgh dairy farm worker Victor Diaz turned on his washing machine and sewage came out. He turned on the faucet and sewage poured out of there, too, Diaz said.

After two years of living in a leaky camper at the farm, sewage in his new dwelling was the last straw. Victor Diaz and his co-worker asked the farmer to fix the problem, but after two weeks of nothing, they walked off the job Thursday.

Then, with the support of workers’ rights advocates, Victor Diaz returned Friday, demanding back pay owed to him and two other workers. The farmer, Ray Brands, paid them more than $1,800.

The rally Friday arose from one incident, but is part of a larger goal of the advocacy group Migrant Justice, which campaigns for the rights of more than 1,500 migrant dairy workers in Vermont, many of whom are undocumented and send much of their wages to Mexico to support their families.

After a successful push this legislative session to update the statewide police policy on racial profiling, and a victory last year securing driving privileges for undocumented immigrants, Migrant Justice organizers say this summer they want to draw attention to unfair housing and working conditions.

“It’s always been on the agenda to improve the housing and working conditions on the farms,” said Brendan O’Neill, an organizer for Migrant Justice.

In an interview Monday at Migrant Justice’s Burlington office, other workers shared their stories of poor living conditions. One worker said his housing was bad but he bought paint and repaired it himself.

Another, Carlos Diaz, 19, told how his boss continued to cram workers into one house until they approached the farmer and asked him for more space. Instead, the farmer decided to fire a worker, but changed his mind after workers insisted all they needed was more room.

Carlos Diaz said at a previous farm, he lived in a house where the faucet spewed dirty water and workers had to buy bottled water.

During Friday’s rally, Victor Diaz pointed to the leaky camper where he used to live with three other workers. At one point they slept under a tarp to keep the water off, he said.

Victor Diaz, 22, has worked at the farm since March 2012, he said. A man who transports workers abandoned him there and he had no choice but to start working, he said.

Victor Diaz made about $9 an hour milking cows for two hours each morning and caring for the cows and other animals, he said. He sends between $600 and $700 a month to his family in Mexico, he said.

Reached by phone Monday, Brands declined to discuss the situation, saying “the community that I work and operate in understands. I don’t feel that I have to validate or respond to anything that they’re putting forth,” he said.

O’Neill on Monday said the conversation with Brands on Friday during the rally was respectful.

“Respect is a two-way street. I feel like I’ve been somewhat abused here, too,” Brands said Friday, according to Vermont Public Radio.

The Ferrisburgh workers plan to file a complaint with the town health officer, O’Neill said.

Migrant Justice plans to conduct a survey this summer of migrant workers and develop a concept of what constitutes a good job and good living conditions.

“The first step is really for the (migrant) community to define what that means,” O’Neill said.

Demonstrators line the road near a Ferrisburgh farm. Migrant Justice photo
Demonstrators line the road near a Ferrisburgh farm. Photo by Migrant Justice

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  • Amanda Higenbotham

    This report doesn’t indicate if Mr. Diaz and his employer send in checks to the VT tax department. My guess is at least one doesn’t.

  • Jason Wells

    This is incredible! The proof is in the picture employing illegals is illegal! Why is ICE not descending on Mr. Brands farm?? Why is the State not descending on the farm to collect the taxes from these wages?

    Oh wait I forgot that’s right there will be no charges and not a word from the State as they do everything they can to hide all the dirty secrets of dairy farming in Vermont from tax cheats to pollution and exemptions for almost all enviro regs.

    Both of these men Mr. Diaz and Mr. Brands are stealing right out of our pockets by not paying taxes. And in no way is this the only farm in VT that abuses these illegals by putting them in horrid living conditions shipping containers broke down campers etc.

  • Paul Lutz

    Do they pay soical security taxes, medicare taxes, federal taxes, state taxes, property tax? Where do they send their wages.

    The irony is we hear Montpleier and Washington complain about “fair wages” What do you expect? We add 30 million low skilled, poorly educated workers to the system every year!!!!!!!

    The dems do it for voters and the republicans do it for cheap labor.

    • J. Paul Sokal

      On what evidence do any of the prior posters base their contention that payroll taxes are not being paid? This is speculation pure and simple.

      • Greg Lapworth

        Taxes can’t be paid without a social security number…..can they?
        Or are there special arrangement made for illegal aliens? In the New Vermont who knows.

  • Kathy Leonard

    The above commenters might do some homework before they showcase their intolerance and lack of understanding of this issue. Our dysfunctional House of Representatives has refused to act on needed solutions to these problems. (And yes they pay taxes).

    Are commenters equally as disturbed by the exponentially larger non-payment of taxes by our corporations?


    • Greg Lapworth

      Note: your first information link doesn’t work….seems appropriate….page not found.

    • Amanda Higenbotham

      Same canned response every time the issue’s raised Kathy. Let’s see some proof, other than a ‘farm worker solidarity’ propaganda site. I’d prefer to have the VT Tax Commissioner address this with facts.

    • Kathy Leonard
  • rosemarie jackowski

    Vermont has its own ‘Harvest of Shame’.

    All workers deserve respect and dignity. Either we are all created equal, or we no longer believe in that principle.

    Clean safe housing, medical care, legal rights, paid vacations – that is the least that we owe these farm workers.

    Every time I have a glass of milk, I say a silent prayer for the farm workers.

  • Greg Lapworth

    The Communist Party is alive and well in the New Vermont, they just call themselves something else.

    • Jason Farrell

      Don’t you just hate representative democracy?

  • Well, this definitely validates all our dairy farm subsidies — it’s clearly created some high quality jobs for Vermonters.

  • Robert Fireovid

    Justin is right-on. These advocates encourage large, industrial farms to violate federal law, make taxpayers shoulder the costs of social services required by ‘undocumented’ migrant laborers, and put more citizen-owned small dairy farmers out-of-business. yowzer!!

  • Robin Cappuccino

    Whose side are you on?

    The farm families amongst my neighbors and friends are hard-working and honorable people.  So too are the men and women who risk life and limb crossing the border to work for and with them.  I fail to see the wisdom in their prosecution as they toil to keep our fragile farm economy afloat.  I am unimpressed with the indignant fanning of the flames of intolerance and inhospitality towards those who make it possible for our farmers to milk their cows and secure their crops. From my perspective our agri-business centered agricultural policy is responsible for much of the demise of our family farms.  It is also agri-business serving “free-trade” policies that caused the Mexican farms of many of our now Vermont farm-workers to have failed.  That they should now be persecuted a second time for their willingness to help maintain our own besieged farms seems a foolish, cruel and ironic injustice.  It is surely a higher calling to stand with our farmers both native and from afar than to profess blind obedience to legal statutes that no longer serve us or our communities.–Robin Cappuccino, West Wheelock, Vermont (submitted to Caledonia Record)

  • Ed Dooley

    If Vermont farmers didn’t employ migrant workers there wouldn’t be any dairy farms in business. The migrants aren’t taking any jobs from Americans, the fact is Americans don’t want to do those jobs. The migrants also pay federal and state income tax, taken out of their pay checks; they also pay Social Security and sales tax, and don’t get any benefits from them. Yes, they’re subsidizing you whiners and complainers. While I sympathize with migrant workers’ issues with housing, pay, and access to basic needs, I also know the farmer had an agreement with the workers to give 2 weeks notice if they planned to leave. they didn’t do that, leaving the farmer to try to find replacements with very short notice. The story is more complicated than reported.

  • Jason Wells

    Hmmm My comment #119945 in response to Ed seems to have disappeared perhaps I could be resurrected? Seems to happen most often on illegal immigration issues.

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