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With new Darigold complaints, UFW again appeals to Starbucks

The following is from the United Farm Workers:

SEATTLE (March 29, 2019) — A week after United Farm Workers (UFW) raised their concerns about labor abuses within the Starbucks supply chain, UFW President Teresa Romero points to Wednesday’s new wage-theft lawsuits as an example of the “endemic nature” of labor law violations at Darigold member farms, a major dairy supplier to Starbucks.

Echoing his comments at the March 20 shareholders meeting, the Rev. Jesse Jackson is still weighing in and urging Starbucks to take action to protect the dairy workers within their supply chain.

“Last week at Starbucks shareholder meeting, I met with farmworkers and heard about the abuses they’ve suffered working at Darigold, a key supplier to Starbucks. I fully support the worker’s complaint,” Jackson said. “These workers work hard every day; they and their families are some of the most vulnerable in our society. But clearly there is an ongoing problem in the dairy industry that needs to be addressed now. Farmworkers deserve respect and protection – Darigold and Starbucks both have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure they are treated fairly, free from discrimination and harassment. I also urge Starbucks to step up and sanction your vendor and ensure that these workers’ rights are protected, and that they are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

This week’s complaints of wage theft and other labor law violations involve nine dairy workers in eastern Washington, all on Darigold member farms. The complainants describe a pattern of wage theft, a failure to provide rest and meal breaks, and a failure to keep record of hours worked and provide accurate pay statements as required by law. The conditions outlined in the complaints conflict with Darigold’s claim that they independently audit dairy farms to ensure compliance with employment laws. Contrasting the plaintiffs’ work experiences at Darigold member farms against Darigold’s claims of independent audits, the lawsuits assert “those statements by NDA/Darigold are unfounded, mistaken, or simply false.”

“These latest complaints illustrate perfectly how endemic in nature labor law violations are on Darigold member farms,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries has issued hundreds of citations for workplace violations by the state’s dairies, with just under half of them deemed ‘serious,’ and the plight of workers on many of these dairies is dire. Any retailer with Darigold milk in their supply chain should be concerned about this.”

One complainant, Sonia Rosales, describes the experience of working on a Darigold member farm to support her two children. “I have been doing farmwork for over 20 years, but I found it strange that on the dairy I wasn’t getting any rest or meal breaks.” She realized labor laws were not being followed, but didn’t feel that she could speak up without risking her job.  “I am a single parent, and I needed this job to provide for my girls.  I eventually realized that if I had been paid properly for the hours I worked, I would have been able to provide another meal for my children.”

Another complainant, Gilberto Ramirez has been working in the dairy industry for around 13 years. A father of three children, he cited his exhaustion as interfering with his family life. “Since I don’t get adequate rest breaks and meal breaks like the law requires, I get home to my kids totally exhausted.  Working these long shifts without meal breaks leaves me too stressed and tired to have the energy to take care of what I need to do at home.”

Last week, Jorge Monreal, a high school student from eastern Washington, asked Starbucks shareholders to take action, and described the sexual harassment, wage theft and discrimination his mother faced while working on a Darigold farm. He ended his comments by asking them, “Can you look me in the eye and tell me you’ll protect the women working to supply your milk?”

Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer, visibly moved by Jorge’s question, stated she was “personally disturbed” by what Jorge’s mother had experienced, and pledged to act: “You’ll see more work here from us in this area.” (Watch the exchange here.)

UFW President Teresa Romero concluded simply, saying “A week after that pledge from Ms. Brewer, these new complaints highlight the urgency of that work that needs to be done.”

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