Dairy workers, UFW hold vigil outside shareholders’ meeting to seek an end to labor abuses at dairy cooperative’s farms
SEATTLE (March 21, 2019) — The message was loud and clear outside Starbucks’ shareholders meeting: this multi-billion dollar company has a responsibility to its customers and community to prevent labor abuses in its supply chain. That means insisting that Darigold, a major milk supplier to Starbucks, must address a chronic pattern of labor violations at its member farms, including allegations of sexual abuse, wage theft, unsafe conditions, and illegal retaliation.
Dozens of dairy workers from eastern Washington, representatives of the United Farm Workers, and other supporters held a vigil Wednesday outside the Starbucks meeting at WaMu Theater. They marched, chanted, leafleted shareholders, and heard messages of support from multiple labor and community leaders. They even got a surprise visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stopped to address the crowd and express his sincere support for the cause and for social justice.
“Starbucks shareholders are coming to celebrate their record billions in profits,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “We’re here to make sure shareholders know what’s happening inside the Starbucks supply chain. We want them to acknowledge their responsibility to the human beings who are working to build their wealth.”
“I’ve come to directly ask Starbucks and its shareholders to take responsibility for the workers dealing with labor abuses within the Starbucks supply chain,” said Maria Gonzalez (pictured speaking at right), a dairy worker and labor activist who won a settlement with a Darigold farm after the EEOC substantiated her reports of sexual harassment, wage theft and illegal retaliation. “People like me work very hard to build your profits, and we deserve to be safe and treated fairly.”
“McDonald’s and Starbucks are both billion dollar corporations who make record profits from our hard labor,” said Ieshia Townsend, a Chicago McDonald’s worker and leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union. “They can afford to pay us a living wage, recognize our right to a union and respect on the job. Fast food workers across the country have been acting like a union to demand an end to sexual harassment, wage theft and other labor violations. That’s why we stand alongside dairy workers to demand that corporations like Starbucks be held accountable for their unfair labor practices.”
“Starbucks is failing to take responsibility for the workers who build their profits — profits that the shareholders meeting today are celebrating,” said April Sims (pictured at left), Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “While they celebrate, the workers who produce the milk they use in their lattes go without dignity in their workplace… and they are retaliated against when they speak out.”
Meanwhile, inside the shareholders’ meeting, the council’s other executive officer, WSLC President Larry Brown, took to the microphone to describe the problem and seek action from Starbucks.
“Starbucks associates its brand with values of social responsibility and responsible supply chain management,” Brown told the shareholders. “Starbucks is also signatory to the United Nations Global Compact supporting workers’ right to organize. In our opinion, Starbucks’ silence in the face of these abuses (at Darigold) is inconsistent with the image it projects.”
Brown asked the company to meet with the United Farm Workers to hear their stories from the dairy farms, and to use their standing as one of the Darigold’s biggest customers to bring the UFW and the dairy cooperative together to resolve these issues.
Also addressing dairy workers and their supporters at the vigil outside the meeting were MLK Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Grant, Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, and Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta.
In a recent letter to Starbucks, long-term Starbucks investor Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCBUSA) urged Starbucks to help resolve the ongoing labor abuses.
“We understand our company, Starbucks, has been sourcing dairy products from farms where workers have faced unsafe working conditions, suffer harassment, and have even lost their lives. These reports are deeply concerning to us as Presbyterians, and as investors. We are very concerned about these workers and the reputational risk Starbucks faces,” stated PCBUSA, citing their church’s mission goals and ethical values. “As a faith-based investor, we believe there is both a moral and a business imperative to address this situation fully and as quickly as possible.”
Begun in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla and other early organizers, the United Farm Workers of America is the nation’s first enduring and largest farmworkers’ union. The UFW continues organizing in major agricultural sectors and continues to actively champion legislative and regulatory reforms for farm workers covering issues such as worker protections, pesticides and immigration reform.
More background on the “Darigold Dozen” campaign can be found at darigold.ufw.org.