Seattle City Council to consider action Monday on dairy working conditions
PASCO (Sept. 14, 2018) — Twelve courageous workers — Margarito Martinez, Manuel Reynaga, Rafael Muniz, Teresita Anguiano, Jesus Perez, Gildardo Perez, Cirilo Ramirez, Miguel Cuevas, Miguel Espiritu, Saul Solorio, Elvis Flamenco and Armando Herrera — were wrongly denied their lunch and other breaks, and not paid all their wages by Ruby Ridge Dairy in Pasco, which is part of the Darigold cooperative. After Ruby Ridge wouldn’t address their concerns, the workers filed a lawsuit and this week they won.
However, in retaliation, Ruby Ridge sued the workers and the United Farm Workers making a series of ridiculous allegations, including conspiracy and defamation. The Darigold Dozen know Ruby Ridge’s legal reprisal is simply an attempt to quiet them while sending a message to all dairy workers that they, too, can be sued if they speak out. In this case, the Darigold Dozen have the active support of the UFW, but what happens to workers who speak out, are sued, and have no organizational support?
The Darigold Dozen are fasting to call attention to these working conditions “so no Darigold dairy worker is subjected to illegal retribution, much less threatened or retaliated against for speaking out. We fast so dairy workers employed at Darigold dairies can have as a safe workplace and can freely speak out to report workplace hazards without fear of retaliation.”
And on Monday, Sept. 17 at 1:30 p.m. you can show your support for these workers by attending a press conference and Seattle City Council vote on a resolution of support for these dairy workers. (See details below.)
The claims the Darigold Dozen are making against Ruby Ridge are not unique. Numerous other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of dairy workers at Darigold-member dairies; some still pending and some recently resolved. They suggest a pattern of wage and hour violations, racist preference for Anglos, wage theft, and retaliation. In addition, several women have now publicly stepped forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and subsequent unjust firings.
Data from the State of Washington show dairy workers’ concerns are real. The Washington State Labor and Industries (L&I) has issued 283 citations over the last three years for workplace violations by the state’s dairies, with just under half of them termed “serious.” With more than 90 percent of the state’s dairies supplying Darigold, it appears workers’ plight at many of the dairies is dire.
It is important to note that these violations are resulted from inspections at just 50 of the state’s nearly 400 dairies. Last year, the state inspected only 18 dairies, or just 5 percent of them.
Workers at Darigold dairies have reason to fear being injured. Recent state data shows that the injury rate (official allowable claims) for Washington state dairies is a whopping 121 percent higher than all Washington industries combined, and 19 percent higher than other types of agricultural work. The numbers are even worse for workers whose injuries require them to miss work or go on disability — 138 percent higher than all Washington industries combined and 41 percent higher than other agriculture sectors.
Much needs to be done at Darigold dairies to ensure that they are workplaces free of harassment, discrimination, and wage and hour, health and safety violations. The record is clear that workers already face unjust firings when they speak out. If they are now to be sued with impunity when they come forward, the situation at Washington dairies will only deteriorate further.
On Monday, Sept. 17, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and multiple unions and community organizations will be joining UFW at Seattle City Hall in support of a resolution led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda that reaffirms the City Council’s commitment to workers and supporting dairy workers and their Fast for Reconciliation. Other participating organizations include Teamsters 117, UFCW 21, Washington Public Employee Association, SEIU 6, SEIU 775, MLK Labor, Casa Latina, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, Faith Action Network, Church Council of Greater Seattle, and the Latino Community Fund.
A press conference will be held at 1:30 p.m. outside the City Council Chambers, ahead of the full council vote at 2 p.m. that day. For more information about the fast and the Darigold Dozen, please visit: darigold.ufw.org.