What happens to the Vermont dairy industry if migrant workers are deported? That was the question being answered at a community forum in Hardwick on Wednesday night.
It’s complicated – that’s one of the big takeaways to come out of Wednesday’s forum at the Hazen School Library about the Vermont dairy economy and its migrant labor force.
A four-person panel discussed everything from the strains global economies put on Vermont dairy farmers to how those same systems create inhumane conditions for migrant workers.
For example, the only visa available to a migrant who wants to work on a farm in the United States is called an “H-2A.” But that only allows for seasonal work — and running a dairy is a year-round operation.
Abel Luna, the campaign and education coordinator for Migrant Justice, told the crowd of about 30 people that this leaves a lot of room for mistreatment of these workers.
“The H-2A program is not a solution,” he said. “Changing one set of workers for another set of workers does not change the conditions workers are facing.”
Luna says he and others with Migrant Justice have urged Vermont policymakers to push for immigration reform in Washington.
“We need a more comprehensive immigration reform that really allows people to fully feel complete as human beings, and have the power to defend themselves,” he concluded.
Jon Lussier, who sat on the same panel in Hardwick, works closely with dairy farmers in the area, buying and selling cattle. He pushed back.
“Many, many, many farmers treat their workers tremendously; they provide good housing, they take them to stores,” Lussier said of his neighbors in Hardwick. “Farmers today know they have to do that, because if they lose that migrant help, they’re out of business. Because the labor force in the state of Vermont is not there to take over their places.”