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Dairy workers fight to get paid their wages while nation celebrates a legacy yet to be realized for all

LatinaLista — As the nation held parades in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday and paid homage to his legacy, it was somewhat ironic that a group of dairy workers are battling for basic rights like getting lunch and water breaks, drinking clean water and getting paid what they’re owed.

Screen shot 2011-01-18 at 4.58.06 PM.pngThe owners of the Ruby Ridge dairy in Washington state dispute that they owe the workers anything and have filed a suit against the workers and the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Fired dairy farm worker Jose Miranda, right, hands Tom Tracy, general counsel for Northwest Farm Credit Services, a petition with 30,000 signatures protesting the agricultural lender’s support of Ruby Ridge Dairy in Pasco, Wash., which has been accused of unfair labor practices.
(Photo: Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman Review)

The whole situation started when some of the workers fed up with working conditions went to their boss and demanded things improve. It’s reported that the boss, Dick Bengan, met their demands by carrying around a gun in plain sight.

So, the workers met with local UFW officials to see about starting a union and that’s when several found themselves without a job. Bengan denies he fired the workers because of the union talk but rather because of “poor performance.”

The workers have tried to hold the dairy employers accountable and recently presented over 30,000 signatures to a local credit services agency that had lent nearly $13 million to the dairy. The workers’ contention is that because the dairy is violating state labor laws the Northwest Farm Credit Services agency should hold the dairy accountable for its actions.

According to the UFW:

In a January 11 article in The Spokesman Review, Tom Tracy, executive vice president and general counsel for Northwest Farm Credit, said it was up to the courts and state regulatory agencies, not Northwest Farm Credit Services, to determine whether Ruby Ridge dairy is in violation of state laws, and so far that has not happened.

On January 13, Tracy told The Capitol Press, “They’re very good customers of ours,” he said. “The issue is really between Ruby Ridge and the employees.”

This response doesn’t please the UFW which claims that the company’s “own mortgage language specifically prohibits illegal behavior such as the workers say is happening at Ruby Ridge.”

While it’s understandable that Northwest Farm Credit wants to preserve its business relationship with Ruby Ridge Dairy, it is a blatant example of putting profits over the well-being of workers.

It’s a lesson that was thought to have been learned from the crash of Enron to Wall Street — people/workers have to come first. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson the financial and agricultural industries have yet to learn.

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