Court Slashes Fine for WA Farm Where Worker Died
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Farm-labor advocacy groups are furious after a District Court judge in Bellingham slashed the fine to $36,500 on Tuesday for a blueberry farm accused of unsafe working conditions, after a worker there collapsed and died last August.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries previously found Sarbanand Farms not liable for the death of Honesto Silva Ibarra, a 28-year-old father of two, but it found the company failed to offer enough rest and dinner breaks.
Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of the nonprofit Community2Community Development, said the farm had people working 12- to 14-hour days, despite thick smoke from a nearby wildfire. She charged that managers ignored Ibarra's request for medical help until it was too late.
"He did have diabetes, but his death was caused by overwork, by not enough food, but also extreme dehydration and overwork outside in the fields, during a time when that smoke was covering all of Whatcom County," said Guillen.
The state originally considered a fine of $145,000, but settled on $73,000. Then the district court cut it in half. However, state law allows the district court to charge an assessment, which could bring the final number up to almost $75,000. The company did not accept responsibility for Ibarra's death and argued the fine should be lowered because managers kept good records and cooperated with investigators.
Ibarra was hired in Mexico to come to Washington on an H2A visa held by the company, not the worker. Guillen said that means workers can't flee to another job if working conditions are unsafe.
"For us it's immoral, the fact that the life of a farm worker has been negotiated down to $35,000. And the reason they bring in these H2-A workers is because they are exploitable," she said. "It's like slavery. It's like the value of a worker is actually being calculated. It's disgusting."
She said she's convinced that farm work should be done by union workers with proper breaks, salaries and benefits, and said her group will continue to protest working conditions on farms in Whatcom County.
get more stories like this via email
The number of people with some higher education but no degree or other credential to show for it has increased in recent years, according to a new …
Starting this month, chemical companies will resume being taxed for cleanup of areas with a lot of leftover toxic waste, also known as Superfund …
Today is the deadline for Missouri residents to make sure they are registered to vote if they want to cast a ballot in the August primary. Eligible …
As states ban abortion with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, women's advocates in New York and beyond are raising awareness of the outsized impact …
The fate of more than 600,000 so-called "dreamers" hangs in the balance as opening statements are heard today in a case that could make or break the D…
A four-year project to map big-game routes throughout the West will end without additional funds from Congress - at least for now. Since 2018…
Groups working to curb climate change said a Supreme Court ruling limiting the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control carbon …
Government labels on meat products that say "humane" or "raised in a stress-free environment" are meaningless, according to some animal-rights groups…