Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers contribute to Byrne Dairy’s success

Read our letter to the editor published in the Syracuse Post Standard in response to an article about Byrne Dairy in NY.

To the Editor:

In response to the article “How did Byrne dairy became the nation’s milkman?” let’s not ignore the dairy farmworkers whose labor makes Byrne Dairy such a resounding success. Vibrant industry is something to celebrate, but only if it is responsible and fair. The article does nothing to address the dark side of the dairy industry, nor does it ask of Byrne: “What have you done to ensure the milk you sell is produced under fair working conditions?”

The high production of milk in New York — fueled by the recent boom in Greek yogurt sales — has come at a steep price for thousands of immigrant dairy farmworkers living in isolated conditions on farms scattered across the Upstate region. These workers are excluded from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act as well as even the most basic of New York labor protections.

They receive no overtime, nor are they guaranteed even a day’s rest. The conditions under which they labor are worse still. There have been three dairy farmworker fatalities in the past two years in New York state and almost every worker we have talked to reports having suffered at least one work-related injury. We have met workers who have been attacked by livestock, injured by machinery, and harmed by chemicals. Workers compensation laws are routinely flouted by New York dairy farmers. It is not uncommon to hear workers report that they are treated worse than the cows they are paid to milk.

In response to these alarming conditions, the Workers’ Center of Central New York has begun a campaign supporting dairy farmworkers’ demands for change. We envision an industry that shares the rewards — and significant government subsidies — with all those whose labor makes it succeed. The center has trained workers on OSHA regulations and labor rights, organized a demonstration on “Dairy Day” at the New York State Fair, and worked in partnership with other workers’ rights organizations to advocate for improved safety on dairy farms.

In response to the deplorable and systemic working conditions this campaign has brought to light, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is implementing a local emphasis program focused on New York dairy farm operations.

The dairy industry must ensure fair working conditions, and business like Byrne must take responsibility for the health and safety of workers throughout the dairy supply chain, and join the call that its suppliers should “Milk Cows, not Workers!”

Rebecca Fuentes
Lead Organizer
Workers’ Center of Central New York