Imagine working 10-, 12-, or even 14-hour days. It is strenuous — and dangerous — work, but you are not paid overtime. In fact, you don’t even get breaks. Nor are you allowed to stop for meals. If you do so, the boss will threaten to fire you.
If that sounds like a sweatshop that couldn’t exist in America, think again. It was the situation that farmworkers at Ruby Ridge Dairy in Pasco said they were enduring when they went to the United Farm Workers union for help back in 2009. These types of abuses can happen on farms because the workers are not covered under the National Labor Relations Act, so they don’t have fundamental rights that most of us take for granted.
According to the union, several Ruby Ridge workers were subsequently fired for reporting unsafe and unfair work practices, and for circulating pro-union pledge cards. About 14 current and former employees sued the owners, Dick and Ruby Bengen, in Franklin County Superior Court in August 2009 and that case has yet to be resolved. Meanwhile, the Bengens countersued last February seeking attorney fees and damages from the union and the affected workers.
Supporters of the Ruby Ridge workers want to take their case for fairness and justice to the Seattle headquarters of Darigold, the fourth largest dairy cooperative in the United States. Darigold has tremendous influence over Ruby Ridge because it is one of their member dairies and it processes and markets Ruby Ridge’s milk. The Ruby Ridge supporters — including workers and national religious leaders from across the country — sought to have a conversation with Darigold on Aug. 27 to discuss the abuses happening at Ruby Ridge, but Darigold shut the door on them.
TAKE A STAND! On Monday, Oct. 10, make plans to join Ruby Ridge workers and their supporters who will again take their case to Darigold, at a 2 p.m. Rally for Farmworker Justice outside Darigold’s Seattle headquarters, 1130 Rainier Ave. South. For more information, see the rally flier or contact UFW’s Jorge Valenzuela at 760-673-9901.
Dairy work is difficult — and dangerous. (Read “The Dark Side of Dairies” from High Country News for an excellent description of the work.) There is no reason why dairy workers, like those at Ruby Ridge, don’t deserve the same dignity and fairness that all other workers enjoy.
Instead, they have reported being called “stupid Mexicans” and described how owner Dick Bengen was driving around the property with a gun telling the workers that the gun was for the union people.
But to date, Darigold has turned a blind eye to the plight of Ruby Ridge workers and refused to meet with them or their representatives and supporters. Meanwhile, Darigold touts its “commitment to corporate social responsibility.” (That Darigold report makes much of the company’s commitment to “assuring and improving animal well-being,” but nothing we could find about assuring that farm workers’ well-being.)
Show your support for Ruby Ridge workers and for basic human rights — and send a message to Darigold that it must insist on decent working conditions among its member dairies — by attending the Monday, Oct. 10 rally.