Migrant farmworkers, many of whom belong to communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, are essential workers whose labor has kept people fed throughout the pandemic. In this essay based on their SSRC-funded research, Jennifer Bair and Kathryn Babineau report on the experiences of migrant farmworkers in Vermont’s dairy industry, analyzing the role that worker-driven organizing has played in supporting safer workplaces. When the pandemic hit, a civic infrastructure was already in place in the form of previously established groups that migrant workers trusted ready to disseminate information, testing, and eventually vaccines.
Jennifer Bair is professor of sociology and department chair at the University of Virginia. Her research interests are at the intersection of global political economy, work, and development. The editor of four books, including Frontiers of Commodity Chains Research (Stanford University Press, 2008), her work has appeared in many journals including World Development, Social Problems, Economy and Society, and Signs. She has conducted extensive research on global value chains in Latin America, and more recently, South Asia. In addition to a collaborative book project on labor organizing in global supply chains, she is currently studying efforts to improve human rights protections for migrant workers in US agriculture. She is an editor of the Review of International Political Economy and EPA: Economy and Space, and a member of the International Labor Organization’s Research Review Group. As a graduate student at Duke University, her first foray into international research was funded by the Social Science Research Council International Predissertation Fellowship.