Activists Drop Farm Worker Housing Demands Before Court Hearing

  • May 5, 2020

Farmers and farm workers can breathe a sigh of relief following action by a Skagit County court on May 1. The Court denied activists’ demands for an injunction forcing the state to issue rules that would have crippled farmers and farm workers.

Now the focus is on Governor Inslee and the state Departments of Labor & Industries and Health to release new rules involving temporary worker housing, and after that, farm worker transportation.

Before the scheduled hearing in a Skagit County court on Friday, May 1, the labor activists dropped their demand for an injunction regarding farm worker housing. But after the hearing, they walked that back, and said that everything is on the table. This includes the now famous “bunk bed ban” rule. The judge in Skagit County denied the request for judicial intervention, asking the sides to work together on a compromise and report back to him in 2 weeks.

So where are we? Are bunk beds banned? When will the Governor or the agencies issue these regulations, which were originally scheduled to be filed on Friday? No one seems to know.

Why did these groups who were claiming these measures were necessary to protect farm workers drop these demands in court? We can identify several possible reasons:

  1. The court action was a ploy to get the state to take the action they wanted.
    There is no law or legal precedent that would permit a court to order a state agency to adopt the specific regulations the groups were demanding. So, either the union and legal services lawyers are woefully uneducated about state law (unlikely), or (very likely) they knew the judge would not issue an injunction and only filed the action for leverage in their negotiations with the state. Well, it worked. The state confirmed that if you abuse the court system and create negative press, you will get an inside seat at the table.

  2. They discovered how harmful their actions were to the farm workers they said they were trying to protect.
    Instead of protecting farm workers they would have exposed them to more risk by forcing those who arrived to work to find much less favorable housing arrangements. The housing this applied to was high quality, licenses and government inspected housing. Alternatives to this: cars, under trees and bridges or couch surf on a friendly local farm worker’s house. The other alternative is to not come to work here leaving millions of pounds of fruit and vegetables to rot.

  3. Their anti-guest worker agenda was being exposed.
    For weeks Rosalinda Guillen of Community to Community and the union she created, FUJ, had been pushing the Governor to stop all guest workers from coming to Washington state. About 22,000 are scheduled to arrive this year – 70% of them will end up participating in the state’s apple harvest. Since at least 2013, Guillen and her supporters have been trying to stop guest workers from being used in our state, believing that the worker shortage can be used to get farmers to sign union agreements. When this didn’t work, she and the UFW took the court action to force the state to comply with their demands. Sadly, it worked in the proposed draft rules. Since Guillen and friends wrongly thought that almost all targeted housing was for guest workers, they didn’t realize that thousands of domestic workers arriving from California, Texas and other areas would be out of a job or find no place to live.

What happens next?

It’s up to Governor Inslee and his state agencies. Your voice is extremely important. Until the final rules come out, the Governor needs to hear from you. Farmers are doing an excellent job of protecting these essential workers and reasonable measures need to be taken to ensure their health and safety. But, the Governor has been listening to and responding to the litigation ploys of the activists–which are not aimed at protecting workers but only intended to create an extreme shortage they think they can exploit for their financial gain. Workers need the best possible protection. They also need their jobs, and the farmers need their help to harvest the crops. Make sure the Governor hears from you today!