In late August, InvestigateWest brought readers a High Country News story that found that some 50,000 West Coast dairy farmers were facing increasing exploitation as one of the least protected workers in the nation. Now, as more Northwest dairy workers have pushed for unionization in recent months, employees of an Eastern Washington farm are saying they’ve been fired because of it.
Associated Press reporters Shannon Dininny and Manuel Valdes write that nine co-workers have filed suit against Ruby Ridge Dairy with the aid of the nation’s biggest farm worker union, United Farm Workers of America (UFW). They argue they were let go because of their affiliation with the union. The owners of the farms have disputed that charge.
The northwest’s dairy workers have long lacked the basic labor laws extended by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and found in just about every other industry, including the legal right to form a union, right to overtime pay, and protection from workplace discrimination.
The farmworkers’ union has seen its membership numbers skyrocket in the Northwest, and the group’s most recent organization of 250 workers at an Oregon dairy farm marked the first unionized agricultural operation in Oregon. The union’s efforts have caught the attention of the Washington State Farm Bureau, which has issued new guidelines to farmers with instructions in the event their workers decide to unionize.
The local Tri-City Herald also briefly covered the story, reporting that the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry has decided to hand out $390 checks to each of the fired workers in a display of support.
— Natasha Walker