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Farmworkers Tribunal provides 'critical' platform in Olympia

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Monday, January 22, 2024   

Washington state farmworkers are converging on Olympia this week to call for better working conditions.

The 11th annual Farmworkers Tribunal is being held on Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Rosalinda Guillen is the executive director of Community to Community Development, a Bellingham-based organization that focuses on food sovereignty and immigrant rights.

She said the tribunal is an important part of democracy, where workers who are routinely exploited and paid low wages are given a platform.

"The ability for farmworkers to come to Olympia," said Guillen, "and be received with dignity by the elected representatives of their district is really critical in these times."

A march from the United Churches of Olympia to the Capitol begins at 12:30 p.m.

The tribunal starts at 1:30 p.m. in the Cherberg Building. Guillen said farmworkers will discuss their treatment by the agricultural industry, as well as some of their legislative priorities.

She says climate change is a major concern for farmworkers.

In 2021, lawmakers passed the HEAL Act to create a coordinated approach from state agencies to address environmental justice issues.

But Guillen noted that the Department of Labor and Industries opted out, which hurts farmworkers.

She also said the state doesn't collect enough data from laborers on their working conditions.

House Bill 2226 would allocate more funding for this purpose.

"To gather the information," said Guillen, "to do the surveying with farmworkers in ways that don't create barriers for farmworkers to participate, that open up the ability for farmworkers to be able to say what they really think, without fear of retaliation from their employers or disrespectful treatment from state agency employees."

Farmworkers also are supporting access to unemployment benefits for undocumented workers and allowing workers not to participate in "captive audience" or anti-union meetings at work.

Opponents criticize the notion of giving a largely-immigrant workforce benefits, and say unionization would raise the cost of produce.

Guillen said the tribunal has a history of wins, including a law that gave farmworkers paid rest breaks.

"That was a major victory," said Guillen, "and a major result, I believe, from farmworkers going to Olympia and having the legislators, staff, state agency leaders and the public see the unity in the resolve of the farmworkers to change the system in general."



Disclosure: Community to Community Development contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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