Yesterday, Forbes reported on an open letter addressed to Chobani’s Founder and CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, calling on him to support the right of farmworkers to unionize. Chobani recently announced that it will partner with Fair Trade USA to certify dairy suppliers, including on “Worker Wellbeing.” But we are concerned 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 co-signed by WJCNY along with our partners, the Workers' Center of Central New York, SEIU Local 32BJ, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Read about it here in Forbes!
Open Letter 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.
Workers’ Center of Central New York
SEIU Local 32BJ
Worker Justice Center of New York
Farm Worker Labor Organizing Committee