Dairy workers: at least half are immigrants

 

From 2017 interviews in Spanish with dairy workers throughout New York State: 90% are men, 61% from Mexico, 34% Guatemala, 2% Honduras, 2% Puerto Rico; 93% are undocumented; 73% speak little to no English; 62% are married; 70% have children.

Two-thirds had sustained a work injury; more than 80% were estimated to live and work on farms with too few workers to fall under OSHA’s jurisdiction for inspection and sanctioning (that is, below 11 non-family workers). Typically paid $9 an hour; 97% live in on-farm housing provided by their employers.

New York is a major dairy state. In 2015, it ranked fourth nationally in terms of milk production.

A national survey, done in late 2014, reports much less dependence on immigrant workers but shows better the impact of immigrant workers on the entire dairy industry. It reports that immigrant labor accounts for 51% of all dairy labor, and dairies that employ immigrant labor produce 79% of the U.S. milk supply. Dairy farm workers are paid an average wage of $11.54/hour. Dairy farms employed an estimated 150,418 workers in 2013. An estimated 76,968 of those are immigrants.

A bill was introduced in March, 2019 to expand the current H-2A visa program to allow for its use by dairy farmers. Under current law, dairy workers are not allowed to utilize H-2A visas because the dairy industry is not considered seasonal. The bill would allow for an initial three-year visa with an option to extend for another three years.

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