The Dangers of Dairies: How immigrant laborers fight for the right to organize in New York's agricultural industry.

Graduation Date

Fall 12-16-2017

Grading Professor

Miguel Paz

Subject Concentration

Urban Reporting

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Crispin Hernandez used to work on a dairy farm in Lewis County, New York. He would wake up at dawn to prepare the cows for milking. There was no time to waste at Marks Farms - those 2,500 cows weren’t going to milk themselves. Hernandez would feel exhausted by the end of his 12-hour shift, his hands dried out and cracking. His fingers would be stained with iodine. Hernandez was told if he wanted the elbow length gloves to protect his hands and forearms he could purchase them with his own money. Two thirds of those in his industry have experienced injuries and allege wage theft.

Stories like his are not uncommon in “Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farm Workers in NYS,” a survey published by the Worker Justice Center of New York (WJCNY). The workers rights group paints a startling picture of New York State’s leading agricultural industry. Nearly half of the 88 immigrant diary farm workers interviewed said that they’ve faced bullying and discrimination in the workplace. Of those interviewed by the WJCNY, 88 percent believe the cows are treated better than the employees.

This stands in stark contrast to the picture presented in a 2016 survey of Hispanic workers by the Dyson School of Applied Economics in conjunction with Cornell University. Nearly half (44 percent) of those who participated in that survey said they were happy with their jobs and were being compensated well. “The majority said that nothing was difficult, and that they liked everything about their job,” reads the abstract of the Cornell-Dyson survey.

While both sides seem to agree on the some of the numbers and demographics of Hispanic dairy farm workers, they each present polar opposite views of their daily lives. The best way to solve problems to our immigration and labor issues is to be honest about it. The truth probably lies somewhere in between abysmal and perfect.

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