SEATTLE — Nobody should die like Randy Vasquez did, drowning in a manure pond at a Darigold member farm in Mabton, Wash. Randy’s tragic death earlier this year has shaken up the farmworker community and inspired many to take up the battle to improve dairy workers’ safety.
TAKE A STAND! Demand justice for dairy workers employed at Darigold member dairy farms throughout the Pacific Northwest! Make plans to join the United Farm Workers and community supporters at a noontime rally on Wednesday, Sept. 2 at Judge Charles M. Stokes Overlook Park (20th Ave. S. & S. Judkins St., next to Darigold Headquarters) in Seattle. More than 30,000 petition signatures will be delivered to Darigold HQ in a casket, representing the workers who have lost their lives laboring in Washington state dairies. Petitioners are demanding that the company to meet and work with the UFW to improve dairy worker health and safety. (Download/share the event flier and, if you haven’t already… sign the petition!)
Dairy work is considered to be one of the most hazardous occupations, with injury rates 50% higher than most private industry jobs. Dairy workers breath foul air containing bacteria and manure dust for 10 to 12 hours per shift, moving quickly over slick cement floors, and are frequently kicked and stepped on by 1,500-pound animals. Dairy workers typically get one day off between work schedules of five to six consecutive 12-hour work days. (See “The Dark Side of Dairies,” High Country News, for more information.)
Most of us have heard Randy’s story. In “Death at the Riverview Ranch Dairy,” Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO wrote about the Feb. 25 death of Randy Vasquez, husband and father of two:
Randy, 27, worked as a milker on the night shift. At around 9 p.m., about an hour before milking, he took the front loader out to feed the cattle. Randy did not milk cows that night. He was found at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 25 strapped into the front loader sunk six feet deep in a manure lagoon. Randy died of “asphyxiation due to inhalation of dairy waste water sludge,” according to the Yakima County coroner. Randy drowned to death in cow manure.
The state Labor and Industries Department cited and fined the dairy $6,800 for “serious” safety violations after investigating Randy’s death. The dairy owner recently appealed the citation and penalties.
Unfortunately, Randy and his surviving family aren’t alone. Since 2000, 11 dairy workers have lost their lives on the job.
As the fight to improve worker safety at Darigold member farms continues, the WSLC continues to collect contributions for Randy’s surviving family: 28-year-old Nubia Guajardo Ayala, and two children, Jazzlyn (2) and Jayzaiah (3).
“Our hearts break at this senseless and avoidable workplace death, and we will work with Labor and Industries and the UFW on making dairies safer places to work,” Johnson wrote. “But in Randy’s memory we want to ask you to help us support his wife and her two young children with your generous contributions.”
Please make checks out to the WSLC, with Randy Vasquez written in the memo line, and send them to us at the Washington State Labor Council, 321 16th Ave. South, Seattle, WA, 98144. We will send the donations and the names of the contributors to his wife, Nubia.