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Worker abuse: more than sour milk at the dairy farm

This holiday season, we have the opportunity to extend un abrazote to some of our Latino family across the country, to share a moment of solidarity with our brothers. Each of us can contribute to a support network that is forming around a group of Latino men who are facing a counter lawsuit in Washington State.

The owners of Ruby Ridge Dairy are bringing forth the law suit, what some term a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) against these workers in what the men claim is retaliation for their efforts at unioninzing to help secure better working conditions.

Life on many large U.S. dairy farms is – to say the least – unpleasant. Animal abuse and neglect have been documented. For a group of workers of Ruby Ridge Dairy, the conditions that the humans suffered on the job became so intolerable that they felt the need to stand up and speak out regarding the abuses against them. This decision was not one lightly taken, considering the workers’ statements that Dick Bengen (the owner) carried out a campaign of intimidation, characterized by unveiled threats of shootings on the farm.

Ruby Ridge is not the first dairy farm that has had allegations of worker abuse leveled against it. What is notable about this farm is that the workers have garnered a significant amount of support in a society where racism is “palpable,” according to Erik Nicholson, National Vice President of the United Farm Workers (UFW). Mr. Nicholson stated during a phone interview that the “egregious (work) conditions” that led these workers to sue their employers has inspired workers on other dairies to come forward.

A rally for the men’s cause was held at the end of August and was attended by supporters, including some from Occupy Seattle. Despite the significant transportation challenges involved in attending, Mr. Nicholson was pleased to support them. The support is important to the men, most of whom are struggling to raise families. Some have not found work after being fired from their jobs – some say for retaliation against unionizing activity. The UFW is also being sued by the Bengens. The trial is set for February and the mounting legal costs are a formidable obstacle for a group of men who may now be having difficulty providing for their families.

The UFW is circulating a petition in support of the men. The involvement of the UFW is crucial, since dairy workers are not covered under the National Fair Labor Standards Act and thus have little recourse to address work place abuse and wage fraud. Please take a moment to read the referenced articles and consider lending your signature to a long distance affirmation of support for these workers who are standing up for their rights to be treated fairly and with dignity.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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About Maitri Pamo

Matri was born in Guatemala City and emigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a toddler. Her childhood years were spent in Washington D.C. She was fortunate to have been aided and encouraged to apply to a great school in Virginia by a teacher who saw a spark in her when she taught her in the DC public school system. Maitri was disadvantaged in that she then became the only Latina in her class for many years. When it came time to go to college, she left for New York City, the place of her childhood dreams, to attend Barnard College, Columbia University. She graduated with a degree in Foreign Area Studies, with a concentration in Latin America. When she finally realized what she wanted to do professionally, she enrolled in three extra years of undergraduate coursework in order to fulfill the requirements for application to veterinary medical school. She graduated from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

In addition to her professional life, a life she finds not only rewarding but constantly challenging, Maitri is a wife and a mother of three young children. She is an activist, interested in furthering knowledge, participating and directly involving herself in the areas of human and non human animal rights and environmentalism. She tries to engage in the world around her to influence it as much as she can to help secure a healthy, peaceful living environment for her children and all other living beings on the planet. She is a benevolent misanthrope, a polyglot, a lover of travel. She has wild plans of obtaining a law degree when her children are older. She is currently practicing emergency medicine and volunteers her services wherever they are needed.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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