June 18, 2018 Press release, Community to Community Development
For Immediate Release: Bellingham, WA June 18th, 2018
What: hearing to rule on the mitigation of health & safety violations
When: Tuesday 8:30 am
Where: Whatcom County Courthouse, 4th Floor
Rally in front of Courthouse, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham, WA.
In August 2017, farmworker Honesto Silva Ibarra died while working under inhumane conditions at Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, WA. Seventy two workers were abruptly fired after walking out in protest of their employer’s refusal to provide medical attention to Ibarra, resulting in his death, as well as the lack of adequate meals and potable water, rest breaks, and safe working conditions. Ibarra and all of the farmworkers fired were contracted under the exploitative federal H2A guestworker visa program.
The WA State Dept of Labor & Industries (L&I) found Sarbanand Farms in violation of 13 health and safety workplace regulations, but chose to fine the farm for only 2 of those violations. Furthermore, L&I reduced the fine to only 5% of the maximum fine applicable. Sarbanand chose to contest the infractions, essentially denying their responsibility in the death of Honesto Silva Ibarra. Community groups, concerned residents and the Faith Community of Whatcom County continue to speak up and challenge the decision by L&I that essentially says that a farm worker’s death should be mitigated in traffic court. “The corporate agricultural system is unwilling and State agencies and the judicial system are structurally incapable of providing a clear path to justice and equity for farmworkers.” said Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community (C2C).
Community members were present at the first hearing on 4/23/2018 when a continuance was issued, and again on 5/23/2018, when the prosecutor announced that Sarbanand will now be mitigating their fine rather than contesting it. Sarabanand refuses to conduct the proceedings in a transparent way. Per the prosecutor’s office staff, Sarbanand has the option to submit documents electronically in lieu of appearing in person.
C2C, a local farmworker-led organization that fights for farmworker justice, is rallying the public to attend tomorrow’s hearing and a rally outside the County Courthouse in support of Honesto Silva Ibarra and all farmworkers who suffer under the exploitative H2A program.
Leading the Rally will be multi-faith leaders. “What is a farmworker’s life worth in Whatcom County? And what court decides that? As people of Faith who believe in a merciful and loving God, we stand with the workers and express outrage, adding our voices to those calling for a higher moral imperative in the face of this injustice” said Carla Shafer, member of Farm Worker Ministry NW, affiliate of National Farmworker Ministries.