An advocacy group for Vermont migrant farmworkers is pressuring the Hannaford supermarket chain to join a program designed to get more money to dairy workers.
Two years ago, Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry's signed an agreement that said the ice cream maker would pay farmers more for their product if the farmers provide better pay and working conditions.
The group now wants Hannaford to do the same. The Maine-based chain buys milk for its store brand from Vermont producers.
To make their point, Migrant Justice on Thursday staged a rally and then marched to a Hannaford store in Burlington’s new North End.
Speaking through an interpreter, a farmworker named Jose Luis Cordova Herrera said his employer provided better housing after the farm signed on to the Milk With Dignity program.
“I was living in housing where two to three workers were sharing rooms together. We were all stacked on top of one other without enough space for our things,” he said. “But I was scared to talk to the boss because I was worried that I’d be fired if I spoke out.”
But now, Herrera said, “I have my own room. There’s enough space for all of us. We have room to spread out and everything is new and in working condition."
Under the Milk with Dignity program, a third party auditor monitors farmers’ compliance with standards that cover wages, housing, and paid time off.
Migrant Justice says the program covers about 250 farmworkers on nearly 70 farms in Vermont and New York.
Newport farmer Matt Maxwell said the program allowed him to boost worker pay and provide better housing.
More from VPR: 'Milk With Dignity' Called A Success For Farms And Workers [July 25, 2018]
“Before that we weren't paying our employees the Vermont minimum wage,” he said. “Now we're able to afford to do that with this extra stipend that comes in from Ben & Jerry's and the Milk with Dignity program. So we're able to lift everybody's wages up to at least the Vermont minimum wage — some of the guys that have been there a while get more.”
Maxwell, whose farm has about 850 milking cows, said Hannaford should embrace the program.
“I think it would be a good PR move for Hannaford's,” he said. “I mean, a lot of people shop here. It would make them really look good to the public. A lot of people are being helped by this Milk with Dignity program in Vermont that otherwise would be subject to substandard pay and substandard housing.”
Hannaford, which has more than 180 stores in New England and New York, did not say whether it would endorse Milk with Dignity or negotiate with Migrant Justice.
In a statement, the company said it expects its suppliers to follow the law and treat their workers humanely.