Propelled by the much-heralded “yogurt boom,” New York’s dairy production and processing industry generates $14 billion a year and is the star sector of the state’s agricultural economy. But a new study, to be released today at the start of National Dairy Month, finds that the immigrant workers who provide milking labor on which the industry heavily depends are themselves being “milked.”
The study, Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State, is based upon a face-to-face survey with 88 workers across 53 different farms located in the Central, Northern, and Western regions of New York State. It was coauthored by a team of academic scholars and community leaders: Carly Fox of the Worker Justice Center of New York, Rebecca Fuentes of the Workers’ Center of Central New York, Fabiola Ortiz Valdez and Gretchen Purser, both of Syracuse University, and Kathleen Sexsmith of Cornell University.
The report presents a concerning picture of the working and living conditions on New York dairy farms, and it does so by highlighting the rarely-heard voices of the workers themselves. As one worker proclaimed, “We immigrants do the dirty, heavy, and low paid work behind the gallons of milk that you and your family consume.” Indeed, as the industry has grown and consolidated, more and more farmers have turned to undocumented Latino immigrants to fill positions in their 24-hour milking parlors. These workers are acutely aware of their deportability and vulnerability to exploitation. “We came here to work,” a worker objected, “but not like slaves.” Nine out of ten workers surveyed believe that their employers care more about the cows than about workers’ well-being.
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