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Marchers Mark Yakima Warehouse Packer's Death to COVID-19

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Workers are on strike at four of the six fruit packing warehouses in Yakima Valley. (Shauri Tello)
Workers are on strike at four of the six fruit packing warehouses in Yakima Valley. (Shauri Tello)
June 4, 2020

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Workers in Yakima's fruit packing warehouses are mourning the loss of a colleague to COVID-19.

The virus has hit Yakima County hard, prompting workers at six fruit companies to strike for better conditions over the past few weeks.

David Cruz, who worked at Allan Brothers Fruit for 12 years, died on Sunday.

Edgar Franks is political director of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, which is organizing workers in the area. He says workers were excited to strike a deal with Allan Brothers last week.

"To find out a couple days later that one of their co-workers had passed away, I think, is what's leading for the workers to really fight harder for better protections," he states.

On Wednesday, workers mourning Cruz's death marched to the Department of Labor and Industries and Department of Health offices in Yakima and then to two fruit packing warehouses in the area.

The Department of Labor and Industries and Gov. Jay Inslee's office released rules last week for the agriculture industry requiring face masks, more hand washing stations and other safety precautions for workers.

But Franks says those rules haven't come quickly enough.

"By the time those rules were already released, the damage has already been done and the implementation of the rule and the enforcement is going to be critical now to really be monitoring and making sure those rules are followed and enforced," he states.

Franks says workers don't feel safe on the job and want more protections from the state.

"Protecting worker health should be their top priority and, for the time being, that's not how the workers feel -- that that's not being done adequately," he stresses.

Franks notes workers at four of the six fruit companies still are on strike.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA