Burlington’s Ben & Jerry’s workers embraced the presence of labor-rights activists at Tuesday’s Free Cone Day.
“The protesters are welcome. We are a very socially driven company. We are still working with them, and we are definitely still coming to the table to find an agreement,” said Lindsay Bumps, a Ben & Jerry’s public relations representative. She referenced the ice cream company’s 2015 commitment to work with Migrant Justice, a farm labor group, on a program called Milk with Dignity.
Migrant Justice leaders want to secure better conditions for dairy workers and potentially use Ben & Jerry’s corporate reach to require milk suppliers to agree to participate in their program. The ice-cream company has a history of supporting social welfare causes and uses fair-trade coffee and cage-free eggs in its flavors.
“We are going back to D.C. for the climate change march at the end of the month,” Eric Fredette, a Ben & Jerry’s research and development flavor guru, said as he stood in front of the scoop tent with a fellow employee. On corner of Church and Cherry streets, the two directed community members in search of free scoops to where the line ended a full block away.
“I love free things,” Abigail Gardner said as she enjoyed a cone with friends and observed two protesters dressed as a cow entertain the crowd by dancing a grapevine step.
“But social justice and food justice is very important to me,” Gardner said, explaining that she has friends working for migrant workers rights in Texas. She and several other young people swallowed their moral dilemmas because the ice cream was free.
“Ben & Jerry’s has to make a legal commitment to farm workers that they will stand up for their human rights,” Migrant Justice spokesman Will Lambek said.
Lambek and about 25 protesters gathered in support of the cause. Activists Zully Palacios and Enrique Balcazar were with them. The two were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and then released on March 28 from detention. A third undocumented immigrant arrested in Burlington last month, Cesar Alex Carrillo, is still being held.
They marched onto Church Street holding signs and chanting, “What do we want? Milk the Dignity. When do we want it? Now.”
Cone-free Gary Webster of Duxbury looked on.
“If we didn’t have migrant workers we’d be in trouble,” said Webster, who works with septic systems and said he grew up working on dairy farms. “Young people today have no work ethic.”
The protest in Burlington followed a similar rally in Waterbury and continued for most of the afternoon.