Source: Civil Eats
In 2009, José Obeth Santiz Cruz, a 20 year-old farmworker from Chiapas, Mexico, had a fatal accident on a small dairy farm in Vermont. Cruz was working on his knees near a gutter scraper–a conveyor belt that pushes manure into a pit–when his clothing got caught, and he was strangled.
Later that year, a group of Vermont farmworkers created Migrant Justice. Enrique Balcazar, a dairy worker and organizer for the group, says he personally knows two farmworkers who have lost fingers in the same type of gutter scraper in which Cruz died. His father still suffers from a serious injury he sustained while working through the night at a dairy six years ago, and Balcazar considers himself lucky to have never been injured at work.
The growth of the dairy industry has raised serious global environmental concerns, and now we can add labor issues to that list. Vermont, which produces about 1.3 percent of the nation’s milk, has dairy in the heart of its economy: 868 dairy farms bring in $2.2 billion in economic activity each year. Over the last nine decades, the number of dairy farms in the state decreased 96 percent. With steep decline in farms, productivity per farm has increased, resulting in an increase in the hiring of outside labor to manage larger herd sizes. Vermont’s 1,200-1,500 migrant workers often bear the brunt of this shift. According to Balcazar, there is little to no enforcement of existing health and safety laws, wage and hour laws, or housing codes.