Press Release: Whatcom and Skagit County Farm workers to testify regarding working conditions and wages

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Familias Unidas por la Justicia Farm worker testifies as state legislators listen 7-15-2013. Photo by Star Murray

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Rosalinda Guillen
Community to Community Development
203 W. Holly, Suite 317
Bellingham, WA 98225
Phone: (360) 381-0293
E-mail:rosalindag@qwestoffice.net

Whatcom and Skagit County Farm workers to testify regarding working conditions and wages

WHAT: Washington State Legislative Work Session.

WHEN: Thursday, November 14th 6p.m-8p.m

WHERE: Everett Community College. (Henry Jackson Conference Center)
2000 Tower St. Everett WA.

Bellingham, WA, November 12 2013: Whatcom and Skagit County Farm workers will travel to an urban setting from their rural homes on Thursday, November 14, 2013 in order to testify about their working conditions and wages.

According to the Bellingham Herald, “Whatcom County’s 93 raspberry farmers harvested more than 63.4 million pounds of raspberries this past summer, a 9.8 percent increase compared to 2012” (Gallager, October 28, 2013). A local farmer’s organization boasts, “The red raspberry crop is worth $50 million to $90 million a year, depending on the volume and quality” (Cohen, June 3, 2013). The estimated Market Value of berry production in the Skagit Valley was $18.4 million in 2009 and has steadily risen (McMoran 2009).

These financial gains do not reflect the current reality for the majority of the state’s farm workers, who live in our communities and are our neighbors. In our state, farm workers continue to live below the poverty level, work in extreme weather, endure hostile and dangerous working conditions including exposure to toxic pesticides, and are exploited because of their immigrant status, inability to read, write, and let alone understand and speak English or Spanish. Many farm workers, as a result of these vulnerabilities experience wage theft, verbal and physical abuse at work, poor housing, and unstable employment and are unable to seek medical care because they cannot afford health care.

Exploitation of child labor is also an issue that has plagued Whatcom and Skagit Counties; in July 2012 the US Department of Labor launched an investigation of Child Labor violations at PTM Berry Farms, LLC in Lynden, Washington. The investigation resulted in both the PTM Berry Farms, LLC and Vicente Labor Contractors individually being fined $8000 for each of the four child laborers they hired, and $12,100 in back wages and damages. This summer, Familias Unidas por la Justicia was able to recover over $6,000 in back wages owed from the strawberry harvest to berry pickers aged 12 – 16 years old they represent at Sakuma Brothers Berry Farm. Whatcom County based farm worker leader Angelica Villa argues, “We need laws that really will protect workers and gives us fair wages on a larger level, here in Whatcom and Skagit counties and across the state.”

Community to Community urges all community leaders in the region working for local and just food systems, especially on the policy arena to attend. Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community Development issued the following statement regarding the legislative work session, “We applaud the WA State Labor & Work Force Committee for this valuable opportunity for WA State farm workers to give input to Legislative leadership towards the evaluation of state policies that can improve the working conditions of farm workers. As an organization that works to develop a healthy and just food system for all, we encourage consumers, family farmers, food justice activists and members of local food system groups to attend.”

Also to be discussed at this legislative work session is the federal H2A guest worker program that allows growers to apply for and bring foreign workers to work on local farms during the harvest season. Growers, agriculture contractors, state/ federal agencies and advocates will also testify at this Legislative Work Session.

DETAILS: The event starts promptly 6:00p.m – early arrival strongly encouraged due to parking and location on campus. Please visit Everett Community College website at http://www.everettcc.edu/

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