Migrant Justice Wins $150,000 Grant to Expand Milk With Dignity | Off Message

Migrant Justice Wins $150,000 Grant to Expand Milk With Dignity


Will Lambek, left, and Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice - FILE: KATIE JICKLING
  • File: Katie Jickling
  • Will Lambek, left, and Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice
Migrant Justice has won a $150,000 grant in recognition of its efforts to expand its Milk with Dignity program, which seeks to provide migrant farmworkers better working conditions.

The grant was announced Wednesday by the Workers Lab, which invests in experimental ways to empower working people. Migrant Justice was among five winners selected from more than 200 applicants for the lab's Fall Innovation Fund challenge.

Will Lambek, a Migrant Justice organizer, said the grant award is a "testament to the work that immigrant dairy workers in Vermont have done to create, fight for and implement this program that’s now transforming the industry."

He and Enrique Balcazar, a Migrant Justice spokesperson, traveled to New York last month to meet with the Workers Lab board of directors and present about the program. The organization received applications from 39 U.S. states and 14 different countries.

Migrant Justice has an operating budget of less than $500,000, Lambek said, so the grant will make a “huge impact."

The Milk with Dignity program enlists dairy companies to sign enforceable agreements that set requirements on wages, work schedule, health and safety, and housing. It also establishes an independent council to monitor and enforce the standards.

Migrant Justice plans to use some of the grant on a public campaign urging Hannaford to join the Milk with Dignity program, an expansion that would help cover "hundreds more [workers]," Lambek said. He added the organization plans to discuss further uses of the money at its annual retreat this weekend.

In 2017, after two years of negotiations, Migrant Justice reached an agreement with Ben & Jerry’s to enroll the ice cream company's northeast dairy supply chain — more than 70 Vermont and New York farms — in the program.

The deal aids more than 300 workers, according to Migrant Justice, which said at the time that it was only the beginning of its efforts. In October, more than 150 advocates marched to Hannaford's Burlington location and delivered a letter to its manager. Migrant Justice coordinated similar demonstrations around New England earlier this month, Lambek said.

Though the Workers Lab challenge focused mainly on the Milk with Dignity program, the lab also considered the organization’s overall efforts on behalf of working people, Lambek said.

That includes an overall advocacy for the basic human rights of its members, whether raising alarms about racially motivated incidents against migrant workers or pushing back against the investigatory methods of immigration authorities.

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