Community to Community Development
This morning, Farmworkers at King Fuji Ranch in Mattawa began a strike after reaching a tipping point of abuse. Farmworkers on the apple orchard and grape vineyard have been facing untenable production quotas forcefully put on them by the company and intimidation and threats by supervisors. After being threatened with yet another round of unjust firings they called the union Familias Unidas por la Justicia and spoke with Ramon Torres and asked for help. These workers are on H2A guestworker visas and mostly come from Mexico. For the past several months, King Fuji Ranch has consistently retaliated against Farmworkers who have spoken out, through tactics such as firing, blacklisting, and sending groups of workers back to Mexico.
The guestworkers on the federal h2a program are striking to demand an end to King Fuji Ranch's abuse and workplace retaliation. The strike calls attention to the ongoing struggle to work and live in better conditions, from the picking and production quotas, needed medical attention to the safety of their housing. In addition, workers were told that if they "work harder" they will be taken off any blacklists, a threat that means by not speaking out or refusing to work under abusive conditions, they won't lose their jobs for being over-exploited with the untenable work quotas. However, after at least three incidents of groups of workers being sent back to Mexico in 2019 after demanding better conditions, and new H2A workers experiencing the same intimidation tactics, today workers have said enough. King Fuji Ranch must change their labor practices immediately.
In February of 2019 dozens of workers reported getting hypothermia after working in temperatures that were below freezing. In early May, a mumps outbreak occurred on King Fuji Ranch. The company quarantined over 100 workers who were exposed to the contagious illness, isolating them from each other and making it nearly impossible for workers to get into town to seek medical attention. King Fuji Ranch management ordered a mass vaccination requiring everyone to receive the shot or they were not allowed to work. Yet farm management has not taken measures to ensure its H2A housing meets adequate safety and health standards, and workers are concerned that other illnesses could spread.
New legislation was signed into law on May 21, SB 5438, "Concerning the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program" funding an oversight office to monitor labor, housing, and health and safety requirements for farms using the H2A visa program, as well as prioritizing outreach to domestic farmworkers. "This new law demonstrates that Washington States' legislature is concerned about the unjust conditions of over 30,000 H2A guestworkers are living and working in," said Rosalinda Guillen from Community to Community. It is well overdue that corporate farms like King Fuji Ranch which bring in temporary workers put an end to worker abuses and dangerous working conditions. "It's time the agricultural industry in WA State changes its labor practices, ends the culture of retaliation and recognizes us as human beings that want to work in a food system free from exploitation and rooted in dignity and fairness" said Ramon Torres, President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia.