The dairy industry is New York State’s leading economic sector and has been driving the North Country economy for decades. Since the 1980s, however, corporate consolidation within the dairy industry throughout the entire US has significantly limited farmers’ ability to negotiate milk prices, thus creating a demand for and reliance on low-wage Hispanic migrant labor.
The majority of the migrant workers on New York dairy farms do not speak English and are undocumented because they are ineligible for H2-A seasonal visas due to the year-round demand for this work, which creates an abundance of obstacles for migrant workers within this region that are further exacerbated by the language barrier.
The workers rarely leave the farm due to border patrol’s vigilance, they have limited access to medical care, and are often unaware of the available resources as well as the rights that they do have regardless of immigration status.
Despite the risks and obstacles that migrant workers face in the North Country, as well as the copious amount of dairy farms that employ migrant labor within this region, there is not an advocacy group that provides resources for migrant workers located directly within the North Country.
The non-profit organization, Workers Center of Central NY (WCCNY), located in Syracuse, NY is the grassroots advocacy organization in closest proximity to the North Country. Thus, their initiatives are incredibly lucrative for migrant workers in these region. The WCCNY promotes workplace and economic justice and strives to empower low-wage and marginalized workers to become involved in combatting abuses in the workplace through community organizing, leadership development, immigration reform and popular education and policy advocacy through several initiatives.
The “Dairy Farmworker Organizing Campaign,” as well as the “Health and Safety in the Workplace” initiatives focus on conducting “Know Your Rights” trainings (often conducted in Spanish) to ensure that the federal workplace health and safety regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are being enforced in all occupations that employ low-wage and migrant labor.
These trainings are especially important for migrant dairy farm workers due to the hazardous nature of such work, which involves the use of dangerous machinery, interactions with large and sometimes aggressive animals, and long hours.
The “Struggle Against Wage Theft” initiative attempts to combat situations in which workers do not receive the wages they were promised upon signing the contract to work. (Workers Center). The “Green Light NY: Driving Together” initiative, which has been given high priority in recent months, is a campaign to pass legislation in New York that would allow all residents, regardless of immigration status, to be eligible to receive drivers licenses. This would significantly facilitate migrant workers’ ability to purchase food at grocery stores, as well as receive medical care.
This legislation has already been passed in Vermont, California, Washington, and Connecticut (Workers Center). There is currently a petition on the WCCNY’s website that anyone can sign to support this legislation (https://workerscny.org/en/green-light-ny-driving-together-luz-verde-ny-manejando-juntos/). Furthermore, the WCCNY is currently planning a migrant worker strike on May 1 that is being advertised as “A Day Without Immigrants” / “Un Día Sin Migrantes” and with the hashtag #shutitdownmay1.
The WCCNY’s initiatives are vital in today’s political climate, especially in the North Country, where migrant workers are largely invisible due to lack of mobility and limited access to resources such as health care and language interpretation services. The WCCNY, however, does not receive federal funding and thus relies heavily on donations. As a result, it is crucial now more than ever to bring awareness to the initiatives of the WCCNY that support some of the most vulnerable members of our society, many of whom are currently residing just down the road from the SLU campus and are producing the milk for the delicious dairy products that we can’t live a day without.
Next Thursday, April 20th, Weave News, The Hill News, and KSLU will be hosting a benefit open mic concert at 7:30 at Pub 56. where they will be collecting donations for the WCCNY.