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Yakima strikers call on L&I, Inslee to address work safety

The following is from Community to Community Development (C2C):

OLYMPIA (May 27, 2020) — On Tuesday, workers who have been on strike at apple packing sheds in the Yakima Valley where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred led a caravan to Olympia to deliver more than 200 complaints against their employers to the state Department of Labor and Industries and to demand action from Governor Inslee.

Workers at six different fruit processing facilities have organized strikes in the last month after their co-workers fell ill with COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines were not being implemented by management. Workers from Allan Brothers fruit, where the first strike began three weeks ago, as well as workers from Columbia Reach led the caravan of 25 workers to petition the state government after being stonewalled and retaliated against by management. The workers arrived in Olympia and delivered more than 200 formal complaints against their employers and a demand that Labor and Industries investigate their employers for health-and-safety violations.

“We are on strike demanding protections from COVID 19,” said Julietta Pulido Montejano, a striker at Columbia Reach. “We want the company to respect social distancing, and to provide us with daily masks. We want to be able to take care of ourselves so we can go back to our families and not get them sick.”

Edgar Franks, an organizer with Familias Unidas por la Justicia, an independent farmworker union based in the Skagit Valley which has been supporting the strikers, said, “The governor needs to step in to protect these workers who have been deemed essential. These companies are refusing to meet basic demands for health and safety and are putting entire communities at risk. We came out here from Yakima today to demand that the state do its job and ensure the health and safety of the workers that feed us.”

After the stop at L&I the caravan continued to the Governor’s mansion to demand that he direct state agencies to investigate the companies where workers have gone on strike, and protect the well being of farmworkers throughout the agricultural industry during this pandemic. The governor was not in the building but a head of security accepted a letter from the workers.

Workers are still on strike at Allan Brothers Fruit, Columbia Reach, Jack Frost Fruit, and Matson Fruit. Many have worked for the same company for years or decades without ever seeing a pay increase. They plan to continue their strikes until they can negotiate formal agreements with their employers that protect their health and provide hazard pay for the dangerous work they are doing.

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