“Essential But Invisible”: The Plight of Undocumented Farmworkers During COVID-19

May 15, 2020

Grocery store cart with field of farm workers inside

It does our hearts good to see the love and support being extended to our frontline workers right now, from the handcrafted signs of encouragement popping up in windows, to the homemade masks and face shields people are donating to healthcare workers. Truly, our heroes are wearing scrubs and stethoscopes right now — and we couldn’t be more grateful!

But even as we give three cheers to our essential medical professionals, we need to remember another group toiling away behind the scenes to make all of our lives better: the undocumented migrant workers who are the backbone of our agriculture and food economy. Officially deemed “essential workers” by the government, they work long and hard to feed us, but we don’t see viral videos of people lining up to bang on pots and pans for these essential workers. And despite the fact that they pay taxes like everyone else (paying billions each year), undocumented migrants won’t receive a $1,200 stimulus check. Nor will they have access to government-sponsored healthcare like Medicare and Medicaid — even though they’re doing dangerous, hard, and low-paying work, often without personal protective equipment, and under threat of deportation. Worse still, many of these workers are now getting sick and dying from coronavirus, thanks to the unsafe working conditions they’re being forced to endure.

Take Action Now!

Support An Essential Worker Bill of Rights

It’s Time to Support Undocumented Migrant Workers

It’s time to protect these essential — but largely forgotten — workers. We’re calling for everyone to sign the petition for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to protect those on the frontlines working to keep our food and factory systems going. As noted by Oscar Londoño, who leads the immigrant advocacy NGO WeCount!, “You can’t pick strawberries working remotely from home over Zoom.” Undocumented workers are being forced out into the fields and onto factory floors — and it’s time for the rest of us to step up to help.


Milk with Dignity and Support for Our Workers

OK, we’ll go first: We feel strongly about taking care of our farmers and our workers. In 2017, Ben & Jerry’s became the first dairy buyer to participate in Milk with Dignity, a first-of-its-kind program in our industry designed to ensure dignified working and living conditions for farmworkers. All farms in our Caring Dairy program are required to participate in Milk with Dignity, and implement a code of conduct developed through a worker-led process. But in past weeks, we’ve heard that things are still pretty bad out there. As Vermont farmworker José Ignacio noted during a Vermont State Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on farmworkers, workers like him are “being called ‘essential,’ but being treated as disposable. We’re ‘essential’ — but invisible,” he said, calling on Vermont to step up and allocate state resources to fill the gap where federal funds have failed. We agree, and have made a donation to Migrant Justice, the nonprofit that created Milk with Dignity, to support farm workers’ healthcare needs and other costs associated with coronavirus, but Ben & Jerry’s can’t solve this problem alone.


Support the Essential Workers Bill of Rights

Our country was built by immigrants, and continues to be fed, clothed, and supported by immigrants and migrant workers. About two-thirds of U.S. farmworkers are undocumented migrant workers. Without them, we would go hungry. These workers — now ironically deemed essential but unappreciated — deserve an Essential Workers Bill of Rights, as do all of the folks who continue to work in grocery stores, in transportation, in pharmacies and other jobs deemed necessary during the pandemic. And we’re standing with senators and advocacy groups across the nation to demand that Congress include this Essential Workers Bill of Rights in the next relief bill.

Here’s what it would entail:

  1. Health and safety protections
  2. Robust premium compensation
  3. Protections for collective bargaining agreements
  4. Truly universal paid sick leave and family and medical leave
  5. Protections for whistleblowers
  6. An end to worker misclassification
  7. Healthcare security
  8. Support for child care
  9. Ensuring that workers are treated as experts
  10. Accountability for corporations to meet their responsibilities


Stand With Us to Protect ALL Essential Workers

We know that we couldn’t deliver euphoria in a cone (or a dish or a spoon!) without the help of our essential farmworkers. They’re absolutely crucial to Ben & Jerry’s — and to all of us who need food to survive. And it’s time for these workers to be able to come out of the shadows and receive recognition for their heroic efforts to keep our grocery stores stocked and our people fed. If you had a snack or a meal today, you can thank an essential worker. But we urge you to go beyond a simple “thanks”— stand with us in supporting and protecting them. Sign the petition to keep our essential workers safe, healthy, and earning a fair wage. They deserve it!

Take Action Now!

Support An Essential Worker Bill of Rights