A longstanding conflict between organized labor advocates and a Pacific Northwest dairy processor has evolved into a “consumer” class action lawsuit, alleging misleading marketing claims by the dairy cooperative.

The lawsuit (Ruiz et al v. Darigold, Inc./Northwest Dairy Association, Case Number: 3:2014cv02054), was filed in the Northern District Court of California on May 5. It alleges Darigold misrepresents the way its member farmers treat both cows and workers in marketing materials and the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

Named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Yesenia Ruiz and Fernando Dorantes. Farmworker Justice and the law offices of Marcos Camacho are serving as co-counsel for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs claim "some of Darigold's milk is produced under conditions where dairy cows are injured and sick, where, despite suffering from bloody and swollen udders, cows are still milked, and where workers are denied the most basic labor protections, such as drinkable water, lunch rooms, meal and rest periods, and an environment free of discrimination."

Darigold is a subsidiary of the dairy farmer-owned cooperative Northwest Dairy Association, with about 500 members in five states. It markets about $2 billion in dairy products annually.

Darigold responded to the lawsuit in a statement, refuting the allegations.

“After review of the claims we are confident that they are meritless and will fail in the course of litigation,” said General Counsel and Sr. Vice President, Corporate Affairs Steve Rowe. “The claims that our dairy producers do not adequately take care of their employees or animals is not only inaccurate, it is offensive to generations of our dairy farm families and the employees who care for the animals. We are proud of the over 500 family farms that work hard each and every day to produce high quality Darigold products that feed our local communities and the world.”

 Rowe said Darigold also stands behind the information contained in the Corporate Social Responsibility reports, which can be found at Darigold’s website at www.darigold.com at the bottom of the “About Us” section.

Darigold has been the target of actions by worker rights advocates dating back several years, including seeking to get dairy farm workers to sign union representation cards. In November, Teamsters formed the Farm to Family Coalition with the United Farm Workers, UFCW and a number of community organizations. The coalition participated in several consumer actions against Darigold, including handbilling actions at retail locations in California, Oregon and Washington.

“At the root of any company’s Corporate Social Responsibility efforts must be fair and just treatment of their workers,” said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice. “Darigold is clearly not committed to these goals based on the abuses documented by workers on their suppliers’ farms. Consumers deserve to know the truth behind how Darigold’s suppliers treat their employees and how their products are being made.”

Teamster production workers and lab technicians employed by Darigold ratified a new labor agreement last December.