OLYMPIA (Oct. 16, 2015) — This week, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) dramatically reduced the penalties for the owners of the Riverview Ranch dairy, a Darigold supplier in Mabton, Wash., for workplace safety violations in the gruesome death of farmworker Randy Vasquez in February. Advocates for farmworker safety are expressing outrage that the fine the dairy will pay was reduced from $6,800 to $2,200.
“Is the life of a farmworker really only worth $2,200 and an agreement by the dairy owner that he will drop further appeals?” asked Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, in a letter to L&I Director Joel Sacks. “The message that this settlement sends to growers and to the Washington Farm Bureau is that you are basically off the hook, you can kill farm workers with impunity.”
TAKE A STAND — The United Farm Workers union has set up an online action page where you can send Gov. Jay Inslee a message urging him to reinstate and increase the fine in Randy Vasquez’s death so that dairy owners in Washington take farm safety issues more seriously. Send your email today!
In February, Randy drowned in a manure lagoon that lacked guardrails or proper lighting, trapped beneath an overturned front loader. He wasn’t found until several hours later. Randy was survived by two young children and his wife, Nubia, who has since led a campaign to urge Darigold dairy farms to improve workplace safety. Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (D-Seattle) plans to introduce state legislation next year that establishes stronger, smarter workplace safety regulations for Washington dairy farms.
Here is the letter Johnson sent Thursday to L&I Director Joel Sacks:
Dear Director Sacks,
I am outraged that the Department of Labor and Industries has settled with the Riverview Ranch Dairy for one-third of the paltry original penalty assessed by DOSH for the horrific drowning death of Randy Vasquez in an unmarked, unlit, and unguarded manure pond this past February. Is the life of a farmworker really only worth $2,200 and an agreement by the dairy owner that he will drop further appeals and “that all manure pits on the property will be guarded by December 1, 2015.” Seriously? No cease and desist order until every manure pond is fenced, marked and lit so that another farm worker doesn’t die next week due to the negligence of the employer?
Though L&I’s action is not illegal, it is certainly immoral. And this action is heart-achingly disrespectful to Nubia, Randy’s surviving wife, and their children. And it is disrespectful to all farm workers who break their backs every day to put food on our tables. And it is disrespectful to the labor movement. And it is disrespectful to all those who care about worker rights.
The message that this settlement sends to growers and to the Washington Farm Bureau is that you are basically off the hook, you can kill farm workers with impunity. In fact, in order to avoid offending employers, we are willing to cut your penalties by two-thirds, even when you kill a farm worker through your negligence. And you don’t even have to fix the problem immediately, even though the death resulted because you didn’t do the things that you should have in the first place.
To my way of thinking this action does not accord with the mission, values, and intent of the OSHA and WISHA laws. This shameful settlement is a huge embarrassment for DOSH, for the Department of Labor and Industries and for Governor Inslee’s administration.
I ask you as a man of integrity, where is the humanity in this agreement?
Jeffrey G. Johnson