Facts of case raise troubling questions about who actually benefits from labor activists’ demonstration at Skagit tulip farm

(MT. VERNON) After staging protests outside Skagit Valley tulip farm just days before the start of the area’s world-renowned tulip festival, a group of labor activists claimed victory in their efforts, saying they had won concessions from the farm on a list of demands.

But do the facts paint a different picture?

During the protests, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) named a variety of demands, including requiring the farm provide safety supplies, give access to bathrooms, increase pay, provide paid sick leave and paid time off, and other job protections and benefits.

Workers were back on the job after the group claimed the farm “met all of the workers’ major demands,” the Bellingham Herald reported.

But there was just one problem with FUJ’s claim: the facts show most of the things they were “demanding” were already provided by the farm.

Here’s a look at some of the facts:

  • The activists claimed workers were not provided gloves to protect their hands from daffodil sap while picking flowers, as the sap causes irritation for some people’s skin. But the farm had already been providing gloves for workers. FUJ’s deceptive suggestion that workers weren’t given gloves apparently arose from a disagreement over the preferred style of gloves provided by the farm – hardly the same thing as leaving workers unprotected without any gloves.

  • The same goes for a request for the farm to provide hydrocortisone cream for some workers whose skin was irritated by the daffodil sap. The facts show the farm already routinely provided this cream to workers upon request, as a matter of longtime policy. But again, a small point of confusion–this time over the amount and types of containers in which the cream was delivered to workers–led to a wildly exaggerated claim by FUJ that workers were not provided this ointment needed by some workers.

  • Familias Unidas also suggested that workers were not being given access to bathroom facilities. Again, the facts show that workers had always had access to portable toilets, but a one-time incident involved confusion over toilets brought in for the coming crowds of tourists, which had been left locked, unlike the dozens of toilets already available to the workers. Again, hardly an example of worker mistreatment as the activist group attempted to suggest.

  • During the protests, activists also publicly suggested the farm was not adequately protecting workers when they worked with pesticides on the job. But the facts show that no employees were required to handle any pesticides at the farm as part of their job, because all pesticide handling and application is performed by outside contractors.

Did farm workers really benefit from this activist group’s protest and demands? It appears that very little has changed for workers despite the labor activists’ claims of victory.

A closer examination of FUJ’s claims alongside the facts leaves troubling questions: Who did this protest truly benefit? And why would the labor activists make claims about this farm that were so far from the truth?

Sadly, this is not the first time FUJ and its affiliated activist group Community to Community Development have claimed to solve a problem that the facts show never existed in the first place.

In recent years, protests have targeted other local farms, claiming worker mistreatment or unfair pay despite well-established facts that show otherwise. The activists publicly lambasted one farm for poorly compensating workers, only to go silent once facts were made public showing the farm’s workers are among the highest paid farmworkers anywhere.

Familias Unidas and Community to Community have gone so far as contining to claim one targeted farm had “murdered” a worker, even after multiple state investigations showed the farm was not at fault in the tragic death of a worker, who officials confirmed had died from natural causes as a result of his chronic illness.

Recently, in a particularly glaring example of recklessness with the facts, Community to Community called for an emergency shelter for victims of last fall’s flooding disaster in Whatcom County to be shut down, falsely claiming the farm that was providing its worker housing for flood victims was attempting to profit from the tragedy. It turns out this is the same farm that the activist groups had falsely accused of “murdering” a worker. Was the chance to try to score some political points based on a longtime vendetta really worth putting dozens of disaster victims at risk of homelessness?

Over and over, the loud claims of Familias Unidas por la Justicia and its affiliate Community to Community Development fail to align with the facts. The false accusations certainly haven’t improved the lives of the actual farm workers these groups claim to represent. So who really benefits from this charade?