Darigold refuses to accept petitions on dairy safety

‘Is it too much to ask for a simple dialogue about how to save farmworkers’ lives?’


SEATTLE (Sept. 3, 2015) — Dozens of dairy farmworkers and their community supporters rallied Wednesday outside Darigold headquarters in Seattle to call for safer working conditions at dairy farms around Washington state. But when a delegation tried to deliver more than 38,000 petition signatures calling on the company to engage in a dialogue with farmworker advocates to improve safety, Darigold locked the doors and refused to send anyone out to accept the petitions.

“I’m just shocked right now that they wouldn’t even open the door,” said Indira Trejo of the United Farm Workers, which helped organize the rally. “Nobody is making unreasonable demands. Nobody is calling for a Darigold boycott. We are just trying to start a conversation about how to make dairy farms safer. Is it too much to ask for a simple dialogue about how to save farmworkers’ lives?”

Dairy worker Randy Vasquez, 27, suffered a gruesome death Feb. 24 when he drowned in a manure pond at Riverview Ranch Dairy in Mabton. His death has angered and galvanized farmworkers and the state’s labor community to demand safer working conditions at the state’s dairy farms.

Darigold is a Seattle-based dairy cooperative with annual sales of more than $2 billion that includes more than 500 regional dairy farm “member-owners” through the Northwest, including the Riverview Ranch where Randy was killed.

Randy’s widow, Nubia Guajardo, pictured at right, was among the delegation that sought to deliver the petitions on Wednesday. They were carried in a cardboard coffin to symbolize the dairy workers, like Randy, who have been killed on the job in preventable accidents. The petition urges the CEO of Darigold to meet with Nubia and the UFW about making working conditions safer at their member-owners’ dairy farms.

“Darigold brought great shame upon itself and member dairies by refusing to meet with the wife and family of Randy Vazquez who was tragically killed due to serious safety violations at a member dairy,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, who was also part of the delegation refused entry at Darigold headquarters. “Randy’s family along with supporters only wanted to present 38,000 petitions gathered requesting Darigold to take steps to ensure what happened to Randy would never happen again. Darigold refused to accept the petitions, leaving a sour taste for everyone. Shame on Darigold.”

All farm work can be dangerous because it involves long hours of physically demanding work using large industrial equipment. But dairy farm workers also breathe foul air containing bacteria and manure dust, move quickly over slick cement floors, and are frequently kicked and stepped on by 1,500-pound animals.

Earlier this week, a Darigold spokesperson called Randy’s death “an anomaly.” But since 2000, a dairy worker has been killed on the job an average of every 16 months in Washington state. In 2013, 438 injury claims were submitted by dairy farm workers. That means that every single day, a dairy worker is injured severely enough that it requires reporting to the state.  That’s an injury claim rate that is 73% higher than the rate for all Washington industries.

State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (D-Seattle), pictured at right outside Darigold headquarters, announced at Wednesday’s rally that he is working with farmworker advocates to develop legislation for the 2016 session to improve workplace safety in the industry.

“When you work hard, you also deserve a safe place to work,” Walkinshaw said. “I look forward to working with the United Farm Workers, the Washington State Labor Council and many others — including the family members of Randy Vasquez — to remember his passing by trying to seek legislation… that will increase safety standards in this industry.”

► ALSO see coverage from KIRO TV — Widow protests Darigold for safety


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