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Farmworker Tribunal Sets Legislative Agenda from 'Bottom Up'

Farmworkers will discuss workplace retaliation and health hazards from pesticide use at the Farmworker Tribunal in Olympia on Monday. (Community to Community Development)
Farmworkers will discuss workplace retaliation and health hazards from pesticide use at the Farmworker Tribunal in Olympia on Monday. (Community to Community Development)
March 15, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Farmworkers will be in Olympia next week to discuss workplace conditions.

For the sixth year, laborers from across the state of Washington will deliver testimonies to tribunal judges in culturally appropriate ways - through stories and in the language they feel comfortable speaking. Their views on issues such as workplace retaliation and the heath risks of pesticide use are expected to be big topics.

Adrianne Sebastian, a naturopathic doctor and organizer with International Migrants Alliance, will be one of the judges. She said her role includes not only hearing about issues farmworkers face, but also finding solutions and making recommendations.

"How we can create a more equitable and sustainable, just food system," she said, "while also creating a platform to hear these community voices and the people most impacted."

The sixth annual Farmworker Tribunal will be held Monday, which also is Latino Legislative Day. It is to start at 4:30 p.m. in the Columbia Room of the Legislative building.

Some will be highlighting Senate Bill 5438, which would establish oversight of the federal H2A guest-worker program, which brings laborers in from other countries and has been criticized for exploiting those workers.

Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, one of the organizations hosting the tribunal, said headway is being made legislatively on issues raised by farmworkers in past tribunals. Guillen noted that this is a way for workers to set the agenda.

"Legislative agenda from the bottom up or from the grassroots up," she said. "What do we need to do, what do community leaders need to do, what do farmworkers themselves need to do in the coming years to reach the desired goals - for justice, for safety and health, and economic viability for the community?"

Nina Martinez, who chairs the board of the Latino Civic Alliance, another host of the tribunal, said farmworkers' concerns on the job are critical because of the vital role they play in Washington state's food system.

"Everyone that uses food or sells food - they have to remember where they're getting that from, and they're getting it from the worker," she said. "The worker is not getting treated well or paid well, and this is a problem for all Washingtonians."

More information on the tribunal is online at foodjustice.org, and the text of SB 5438 is at app.leg.wa.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA