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.
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.