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WA Farmworkers Strike Over Intimidation, Threats

A farmworker holds up a sign that says "Huelga" or "strike" in Mattawa, Wash. (Community to Community Development)
A farmworker holds up a sign that says "Huelga" or "strike" in Mattawa, Wash. (Community to Community Development)
June 13, 2019

MATTAWA, Wash. – Workers on a farm in south central Washington state have gone on strike over what they see as threats from management to meet production standards.

The laborers on King Fuji Ranch in Mattawa, a small town north of the Tri-Cities, say they contacted the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia after repeated threats of firing.

The strikers are in the U.S. on temporary H-2A guest worker visas, which allow foreign workers into the country.

Edgar Franks, an organizer with the farmworkers' rights group Community to Community Development, is in Mattawa and says the men were met with intimidation if they didn't meet production quotas, which they saw as unreasonable.

"They were being threatened that if they didn't reach those production standards that they were going to be put on a list to get taken back to Mexico, or also with the possibility of them not being able to get into the H-2A program again," Franks relates.

Last month, mumps broke out on King Fuji Ranch, leading to the quarantine of more than 100 workers. However, Franks says that hasn't been a big factor in this strike.

King Fuji Ranch did not respond to a request for comment by this story's deadline.

Franks says Familias Unidas por la Justicia is helping to correct a power imbalance that favors the employer over its workers.

"There's still the ability for H-2A workers to be represented and organized, and if there's abuses at work and they're constantly being threatened with deportations or being blacklisted, there's now a union here that can help them exercise their rights as workers," he states.

In May, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that provides more oversight for the H-2A program, which has expanded to more than 30,000 workers in Washington state.

However, Franks notes that law doesn't go into effect until August.

Disclosure: Community to Community Development contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA