School for Workers releases new Dairy Workers Study

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Executive summary

The University of Wisconsin–Madison School for Workers partnered with Legal Action of Wisconsin Farmworker Project (“Farmworker Project”) in the development, implementation, and analysis of a qualitative community priority assessment of dairy workers in Wisconsin. The research project was conducted between November 2021 to April 1, 2023.

The primary purpose of this research was to identify this population’s key priorities, strengths, and needs and to provide recommendations on how the Farmworker Project could better support dairy farmworker communities and how the Farmworker Project can leverage its legal expertise to advance community goals and address community needs.

Uniform data was collected in one-on-one interviews with dairy workers. Interview recordings were transcribed and translated. Content analyses were conducted of the interview transcriptions to identify patterns in certain words, themes, or concepts within the scope of the purpose of the study. Additionally, data was codified into Excel and SPSS formats for further analysis.

Overall, we find that Wisconsin dairy workers face unique hardships caused by this industry’s year-round work demands, danger in its occupations, placement of farms in mostly rural and isolated regions, and its dependence on a racialized, predominantly Latin American immigrant and mostly unauthorized workforce.

Specifically, we find that Wisconsin dairy workers:

  • Are predominantly male, in their middle thirties, immigrants from Latin America, more than likely have an unauthorized immigration status, were recruited to work in the dairy industry, and live onsite where employed.
  • Are generally not aware of their worker, workplace, immigrant, or everyday rights.
  • Experience consistent labor and workplace safety violations and are subject to housing discrimination, segregation, and social isolation.
  • Lack information about government or public agencies or advocacy organizations to contact if they are experiencing problems on the job or in their community.


1. Conduct strategic outreach and marketing.

2. Increase civil legal aid funding to build capacity through budgetary advocacy.

3. Provide adult legal education.

4. Provide health and safety education, including rights and processes under the Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Act.

5. Improve data collection.

6. If the Wisconsin legislature introduces legislation or rulemaking authorizing issuance of drivers’ licenses for Wisconsin immigrant residents who have an unauthorized immigration status, Legal Action of Wisconsin should file a formal position through comments or testimony on these efforts as permitted by the Legal Services Corporation.

7. Provide assistance to workers entitled to DHS policy for Deferred Action for workers in a labor dispute.

8. As federal immigration policy develops, Legal Action of Wisconsin should provide comments and share the impact on dairy worker communities, as permitted by Legal Services Corporation.


Read the full report here