Mexicans, slaves of the US Dairy Industry
Subjugated by long working days, mistreatment and risks, Mexicans in the USA are condemned to be exploited by milk production farms; they plead to Mexican Government to intervene.
Sexual harassment, mistreatment, unrecognized risks, tireless working days and the menace of being fired, deported or even sued by bosses, this is the day to day of migrants who work at the Dairy Industry in the USA.
The conflict between workers and owners of dairy companies dated from 10 years ago and began with the case of 12 workers who made several requests to their bosses at the Ruby Ridge Dairy, settled in Washington. This is also known as the Darigold case.
Ever since migrants who are employees at farms have made public their request and working conditions through the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).
Some of their cases arrived in American courts, in which after several years of struggle, they achieved small triumphs that are used by the UFW to invite to whoever has been a victim of abuses in dairies to denounce and demand respect for their rights.
The dairies that are the protagonists of the conflict belong to the Northwest Dairy Association (NDA), a company that brings together almost 440 companies from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
The NDA says that so far no evidence has been found evidence that supports workers’ claims, even though dairies have had audits. The association informed El Universal that the workers of the farms cover days of eight and twelve hours per day, depending on the shift they work.
They point out that the workers who have interviewed have one or two days of rest per week, but that some of them prefer to work more hours to maximize their income.
The salaries are varied and can range from 7.25 dollars to 12 dollars per hour. More experienced employees can earn 20 dollars an hour, in addition to their benefits.
Last days, UFW Vice President, Erik Nicholson, traveled to Mexico to meet with federal officials and expose cases of abuse suffered by Mexican migrants in dairies. He asked the government of Andres Manuel López Obrador to intervene through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that Mexican workers in this industry work in optimal conditions and in full respect of labor guarantees.
He also met with the senator from MORENA, Bertha Alicia Caraveo Camarena, president of the border affairs and migratory commission, who asked for more information about the conditions of Mexicans in dairy farms.
“The main focus is the Darigold case, in addition to the employment situation of Mexicans in the United States, -he explained-. We see them very interested in knowing more about the subject, and they asked us for more information.”
“They met with Ambassador Jacob Prado, General Director of Protection of Mexicans Abroad.
“Through Ambassador Prado’s office, we hope to contact Marcelo Ebrard, because they told us that he is the right person to serve Mexicans abroad. The trial begins on May 20, we expect the government to pronounce itself before that.” He said it.
The case of the 12 workers dismissed and then sued by the Ruby Ridge dairy started in the summer of 2009 and gave rise to a movement called #We´reMoreThan12.
The workers demanded Ruby Ridge better working conditions and said that´s why they were fired, a year later the farm sued them for defamation and conspiracy.
The diary demands approximately 1.5 million dollars since they allege that some of the workers wanted to damage the property and the cows. Ruby Ridge is part of the almost 450 farms that make up the cooperative of NDA.
At the same time, the NDA owns Darigold, company that, although it does not have its own farms, it has 11 factories dedicated to the production of milk derivatives that it exports to different countries, including Mexico.
Although Darigold is not part of the litigation directly, because this is only between Ruby Ridge and the workers, the UFW appointed this company as responsible for monitoring immigrants have the right conditions to work.
According to Erik Nicholson, the case of the 12 migrants left in the rest a message of fear.
“It is a powerful message to the community of workers, now they are afraid of reporting the problems or violations of their worker rights, because not only can they be fired or deported, but they are at risk of being sued,” he said.
“We have demanded that Darigold make responsibility, but the response has always been a no,” he added.
One of the requirements of UFW is to regulate the responsibility of dairies in the case of deaths since Nicholson said that the risk faced by migrants are unique.
María González, a migrant of Mexican origin and activist, was a victim of sexual harassment in 2015 while she was working in DeRuyter Brothers Dairy.
His aggressor, of American origin, was her subordinate, he happened from the comments to the physical abuse against the woman, who at that moment was 42 years old.
“He started to tell me how well I smelled or how well I looked with those jeans, they were much flattery differently. How he wanted a woman like me, from where he came to the physical”, she said in the interview.
“The first time that he tried to touch me was in the corrals when I had just had an accident, and they gave me less tough jobs. He used it as a pretext to give me a back massage, but I rejected him, and he kept insisting for three or four days.”
María reported the incidents to her superior, who has his brother in law and made the situation worse.
“He started to be more aggressive with me, he touched me more and put his fist as if he were to going to hit me. He also got to pull my hair.”
“All the woman want to denounce, but they are afraid, they are involved in a panic because it is challenging to give the first step. I understand them perfectly. I tell them where they are, how they are and that I know how difficult feels try to get out of there because I passed for that”.
María was fired in September of that year because she refused to work with her attacker; therefore, she sued the company, which in 2018 ended up paying her 95 thousand dollars for wages lost due to unjustified dismissal.
“Sometimes I feel that I am not the same person.”
Although Josefina Luciano had more experience in the field, in 2005 she decided to try her luck in the dairy industry.
However, Luck did nor smiled her, and currently she belongs to a legal battle against a farm to them recognized an incapacitated, that she says, was due to an accident at work.
In 2017 she went to work at a farm in NDA, where she started as a temporary employer, but from April the farm contract to her for full time, and, after six days working without setbacks, she suffered an accident.
At one in the morning, on April 9, while she was milking a cow, it kicks her in the face.
“I did not see any signal that it was going to kick me, I had cleaned it and did everything. The last thing I remember is that I grabbed the machine, I do not remember it looked when the kick came towards me, nor when the emergency service came for me, or when I got home. For me, everything has been complicated and traumatic.
The blow “threw her teeth, she ended up with fractures in the upper and lower jaw in December 2008 they placed dental implants.
“I have not been able to work to return to work, additional to throw my teeth, it moved three vertebrae of my neck, now I have arthritis onset, and I have severe depression. I am still trying to overcome it, but there are days that I can not feel that I am myself.”
“I have constant headaches, vertigo, dizziness, neck pain, and tingling hands, I have lost strength, and there are times when my glasses fall, or I can not open a bottle of water, my neck is inflamed, and I have become slower, because I have not the same sharpness as before.”
Josefina is 35 years old and says what hurts the most is that because of her physical condition, she has lost essential moments with her children of 5, 12 and 14 years old,
The insurance of the company paid the expenses of the dental treatment, and a year later they accepted to pay its treatment for depression.