Chobani: Respect Workers’ Organizing Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Eliza Bates, elizamargarita@gmail.com, 646.285.8491

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Chobani: There is No Farmworker Wellbeing Without Union Rights

NYS Labor Groups Pen Open Letter Calling on the State’s Biggest Yogurt Company to Respect Workers’ Organizing Rights

New York, NY: A coalition of labor organizations including the Workers’ Center of Central New York, SEIU Local 32BJ, the Worker Justice Center of New York, and the Farm Worker Labor Organizing Committee penned an open letter to Chobani calling on the company to commit to respecting union organizing rights. Chobani recently announced that it will partner with Fair Trade USA to certify suppliers, including on “Worker Wellbeing.” But labor groups have expressed concern about Fair Trade USA’s spotty record on respecting workers’ rights to organize after the organization certified a Central American melon farm with a history of union busting and grave worker exploitation. 

The letter was first reported in Forbes. The authors of the letter are asking Chobani pledge to support dairy farmworkers’ right to form unions in their workplace. 

After Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Farmworkers’ Fair Labor Practices Act, which extended union organizing rights to New York State farmworkers for the first time, among other important protections (the law goes into effect January, 2020), a member leader from the Workers’ Center of Central New York published an Op-ed calling on Chobani to respect worker organizing rights

With support from FLOC and SEIU Local 32BJ, members of the Workers’ Center of Central New York have met with Chobani several times to educate them on conditions at farms that supply the company, and have asked Chobani to sign an agreement supporting workers’ rights to organize. But Chobani has refused to commit to respecting union organizing rights. Now, allies are joining the Workers’ Center to call on the company to respect farmworkers’ right to form a union.  

The following is an open letter to Chobani’s CEO:

To: Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani

We, the undersigned, call on Chobani to make a commitment to respect farmworkers’ rights to organize unions in their workplaces. You say that you care about worker wellbeing. However, your refusal to commit to support the rights of dairy farmworkers to form unions undermines that claim.  

Chobani has a reputation as a high-road company. You’ve pledged support for improving the lives of farmworkers. Yet, today, many dairy farmworkers live in substandard, squalid housing on the farms that supply Chobani. Worker injuries are commonplace. Workers receive little or no safety training. And at least one of your suppliers has fired farmworkers just for trying to organize for better working and living conditions. After one of the fired workers filed a lawsuit with support from the Workers’ Center of Central New York, an appellate court found that it was unconstitutional to exclude farmworkers from New York State laws protecting other workers from retaliation by their bosses for organizing. With the Farmworkers’ Fair Labor Practices Act, those protections are enshrined into law.

Your certification partner, Fair Trade USA, has shown a disregard for union organizing rights. In 2018, 24 labor organizations and ally groups wrote to Fair Trade USA with alarm that the program continued to certify a Central American melon producer as “Fair Trade,” after the farm fired, intimidated, and blacklisted workers for trying to form a union.

There is no fair trade without workers’ rights. And respect for worker wellbeing has to include respect for workers’ right to freely associate.

You say that you want to empower dairy farmworkers. Well, our power comes from having a collective voice to stand up for our rights.

Workers who must fight alone to address issues in their workplace, without the strength of a collective voice, are not empowered.  

This is your chance to set an example for other yogurt producers and to show your customers, many of whom are deeply concerned with worker wellbeing, that you are truly committed to uplifting the dairy farmworkers whose labor makes your company the number one yogurt producer in New York State.

We’re calling on you to put your words into action and commit to respecting farmworkers’ right to a collective voice to create true worker wellbeing; that means respecting their right to form a union.

Sincerely,

Workers’ Center of Central New York

SEIU Local 32BJ

Worker Justice Center of New York

Farm Worker Labor Organizing Committee 

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The Workers Center of Central New York in Syracuse has been working with dairy workers to organize for fair, safe and humane working conditions. Dairy production is essential to the economy of New York State yet workers, who are mostly immigrants, often labor under harsh and unjust conditions. For an overview, see our comprehensive 2017 report, “Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State. www.milkedny.org

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