Protect Farmworkers Now, a project of Washington state farming advocacy group Save Family Farming, continues to push back against labor activists' false accusations by exposing the harm these strong-arm tactics are causing the same farmworkers they claim to be helping -- restricting their ability to prosper from their hard work, and even threatening their jobs.
A recent Q13 FOX Seattle report highlights the concern: an Auburn-area family farm estimates it lost $100k after it was forced to disk 20 acres of zucchini under because they couldn't find enough workers to harvest the crop. Washington farmers across the board are struggling to find the people needed to continue to operate, and our region's housing issues and high cost of living are contributing to this crisis significantly. But so is the intense pressure from labor activist groups bent on taking advantage of--and deliberately worsening--our farmworker shortage to force unionization of farmworkers, which they view as an opportunity for growth in a time when union membership is lower than it has been in decades and still falling.
In Whatcom County we saw these tactics on full display last summer when a Sumas blueberry farm was accused of "corporate murder" after a diabetic worker ran out of his medication but did not tell the farm about it until it was too late. After his tragic passing, activists from Bellingham-based labor center Community to Community Development and farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia seized on the headlines to accuse the farm of causing the death, and they're still making that claim even now, months after a Washington Department of Labor and Industries investigation cleared the farm of any wrongdoing in the man's passing. The groups' predictable answer to their false crisis? They say farmworkers in Whatcom County need to unionize -- a false solution to a manufactured problem.
In particular, activists say they're standing up for the rights of H-2A guest workers, but at the same time they're calling for an end to the H-2A guest worker program, which would deny work opportunities to those same workers. Why? Activists view the the guest worker program as a roadblock to forcing unions, because of the pressure it takes off of the farmworker shortage that they're trying to leverage.
Save Family Farming's Protect Farmworkers Now Project remains on the front line of this issue. We're countering the false claims of labor activists with facts, photos and videos of the truth about how farmworkers are being treated, and we're exposing the harmful motives behind these activists' actions. We've received coverage in local and regional media outlets and have reached thousands of people with our message via our social media channels. A recent guest editorial by PFN Project Coordinator Dillon Honcoop that the Lynden Tribune published generated a string of letters to the editor, as activist sympathizers were forced on the defensive. A social campaign earlier this year to show the excellent housing and working conditions at the Sumas blueberry farm with photos and videos caused activists to defend why they had called those conditions "degraded," unhealthy and unsafe for workers--when they clearly weren't. Now we've sparked an internal investigation at Evergreen State College into their use of taxpayer-funded vehicles to support labor activists' demonstrations and union organizing activity.
The Protect Farmworkers Now Project will continue to closely monitor the situation as we go into another busy harvest season. We expect the activists to continue their organizing efforts around farms in Whatcom County, and we know that they will be prepared to use any problem--real or otherwise--to their advantage. Please be sure to follow Protect Farmworkers Now on Facebook, and read more information about our efforts at http://protectfarmworkersnow.org.
Lynden Tribune Guest Editorial by Protect Farmworkers Now project coordinator Dillon Honcoop
It’s important to tell the truth, especially when many people’s jobs and livelihoods are on the line. That’s why it’s so troubling to see activists and their sympathizers continue to spread an insidious lie in our community.
Last summer, a worker at a Sumas blueberry farm was rushed to the hospital after having run out of his medication days earlier. Honesto Silva Ibarra tragically passed away at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
An exhaustive Washington Department of Labor & Industries investigation reported that the farm was in no way responsible for Mr. Silva Ibarra’s death, but that truth is apparently an inconvenient one for activist labor groups like Bellingham-based Community to Community Development, who wanted to capitalize on news coverage of the tragedy to further their labor organizing efforts. They have falsely claimed that “degraded conditions” and management failure caused Mr. Silva Ibarra’s death, going so far as to label it “corporate murder,” and continuing to do so even after L&I’s investigation proved them wrong.
A recent letter to the Lynden Tribune from a concerned citizen perhaps inadvertently continues this pervasive lie. “A young H2A worker died due to poor working conditions and management oversight,” Naomi Murphy wrote in the letter the Tribune printed May 9th. It’s one thing to express genuine concern for the workers, it’s another to continue to make false statements when the truth is out there for all to see. Either Ms. Murphy is entirely ignorant of the facts of the tragedy, or she’s intentionally communicating false and harmful accusations.
It’s deeply troubling that activist labor groups continue to claim in interviews, social media, website posts and elsewhere that, among other mistreatment of workers, the Sumas farm caused the worker’s death. Their pressure on the Department of Labor & Industries and the publicity they generated caused the Department to issue a fine 40 times greater than one normally assessed for rest and meal break violations. It is shameful for a Department to punish a farm based on lies communicated about them, especially when they themselves determined the accusations to be lies!
The H-2A program, despite activists’ claims that it amounts to “virtual slavery,” provides some of the best worker protections anywhere, including good wages, subsidized meals and free housing and transportation. The employer has to make sure that the worker returns home after completing their work. If a worker can go from one farm to another, the employer can't be expected to pay for transportation and housing, and prevention of illegal immigration becomes impossible.
The activists seek to establish farmworker unions. It’s a free country and people can pursue whatever agenda they want. But this agenda hurts workers because it takes away jobs they very much need, hurts consumers by rapidly increasing the amount of food we import, and hurts farmers through their vicious lies and political pressure. Workers are exceptionally well protected as the massive fine against the farm for break violations shows. What other business do you know would be fined $150,000 for a few late rest or meal breaks? It’s time for those who care about these farmworkers to tell Community to Community, the activist group behind this, that enough is enough.