About 65 workers walked off the job for two days before reaching a settlement. It was the latest incident of labor unrest among foreign workers, who form an increasingly important part of the Washington workforce for labor-intensive crops such as berries, apples and other fruits and vegetables.
Dozens of foreign workers at Crystal View Raspberry Farms in Whatcom County staged a two-day walkoff earlier this week, alleging that they have not received paychecks on time and faced unreasonable production quotas amid smoke from wildfires.
The work stoppage began Sunday, and initially involved some 65 pickers brought to Washington state under temporary H2-A visas issued for agricultural laborers, according to Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, a Bellingham-based organization that is supporting the farmworkers.
It ended Tuesday, with the workers agreeing to return to work after Monday settlement talks.
This is the latest incident of labor unrest among foreign workers, who form an increasingly important part of the Washington workforce for labor-intensive crops such as berries, apples and other fruits and vegetables.
The Monday settlement talks involved the farm’s owner as well as representatives of Wafla, a farm-labor association that helped arrange for the workers to come to Washington state.
The workers sought to have a Northwest farmworker union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, represent them in the negotiations, but farm owner Gurjant Sandhu rejected that request, according to Edgar Franks, a Community to Community Development staffer who says he was present when that request was made.
“The owner did not like the idea. He started yelling,” Franks said.
The grievances included allegations that some workers, after demanding back pay on Friday, were then laid off on Saturday for not meeting production quotas, according to Franks, who said that workers are from Guatemala and Mexico.
Sandhu could not be reached for comment.
Steve Davis, chief financial officer for Olympia-based Wafla, said his organization was not representing either side in the dispute, but worked with both sides to reach a settlement. He did not disclose its terms.
Franks confirmed on Tuesday morning that the workers had opted to return to picking, and said that the workers laid off had gotten their jobs back.
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A spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industries said Monday that staff had met with the workers at Crystal View to inform them of the process for lodging complaints against their employer. So far, the state has not received any formal complaints from these workers, according to Tim Church, a Labor and Industries spokesman.
Last year, also in Whatcom County, dozens of Mexican blueberry farmers admitted to the U.S. under temporary H2-A visas walked off the job at Sarbanand Farms to protest working conditions.
Also last year, east of the mountains, 17 Mexican H2-A workers at a Quincy apple orchard staged a six-day walkout, then reached a settlement that obligated their employer — Larson Fruit — to address complaints that ranged from a scarcity of toilet paper to verbal abuse from a supervisor.
Those workers did not get rehired to work at Larson Fruit at the start of this year’s orchard season. Columbia Legal Services filed a lawsuit earlier this year in state Superior Court in Yakima on their behalf, which alleged the workers were blacklisted in violation of a settlement agreement.
An attorney for the owner said the allegations of blacklisting were untrue.