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.
Kathryn Babineau is a PhD student in the University of Virginia’s sociology department and the Groundbreakers Jefferson Fellow, where she studies international political economy, labor rights, temporary migration, and public and private regulation. Her dissertation, “Regulating Labor Supply Chains: Sending States, Private Control, and the Governance of Temporary Labor Migration,” traces the regulation of temporary labor migration programs in US agriculture, with an emphasis on the changing role of sending states and private organizations in shaping the structure of these programs. Her previous research identified factors that influence the successful remedy of human rights violations committed by corporations, as a member of the innovative Corporations and Human Rights Database research team. Before returning to academia, she worked as a human rights investigator in US agriculture and as a foreign policy researcher. She holds a Master of Philosophy in Latin American studies from the University of Oxford and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Virginia.