2019 Farmworker Tribunal and Latino Legislative Day on Community Voz / Noisy Waters Northwest

March 30, 2019 Dena Jensen

Click the graphic to access a recording of the 3/20/19 Community Voz radio show

For those who didn’t catch it on air, the March 20, 2019 Community Voz radio show on KMRE centered on the trip that members of the Bellingham women-led , grassroots organization, Community to Community Development (C2C), made to Olympia on March 18, 2019 for the 6th Annual Farmworker Tribunal and Latino Legislative Day. 

Here is a link to a recording of the broadcast: https://www.dropbox.com/s/td7bxyr6qvj80eo/CV%20s2%20ep21%20Farmworker%20Tribunal%20Report%20Back.mp3?dl=0

There’s a discussion in the first half of the show, both in English and Spanish, regarding the various proposed 2019 Washington state legislative bills which C2C is keeping track of or supporting, such as Senate Bill 5438 that would help ensure more adequate oversight and protection of H-2A visa guest farm workers. 

SB 5438 has been passed by the Senate and is currently in the House Labor & Workplace Standards committee, where it received a public hearing on March 28, 2019 with many people offering their testimony there in Olympia.  

The host for the March 20, Community Voz show, Maureen Darras, and Lucy Lopez, both with C2C, along Marisol who provided interpreting, and their guests Danny and John, also talked about the sights they saw and activities they participated in while at the state capitol. It sounded like a  great melding of culture and participation in the legislative process. You should listen! (Plus, there’s always great music on Community Voz during the breaks!)

In the meantime, the second half hour of the show, starting at 29:51 on the recording, focused on the Farmworker Tribunal and I made a loose transcription of the discussion provided for those who couldn’t attend the event, which I am publishing, below:

Maureen: Lucy, who was giving testimony? 

Lucy: So, I saw two young students give a testimony about pesticides. 

Maureen: Did you know one was one of your brothers?

Lucy: I did. It was my little brother. And do you remember the other young fellow?

Maureen: Elias

Lucy: Yes, Elias. His story was – I heard almost had people in tears. He talked about working in the fields at such a young age, I want to say 12, if I remember. 

Maureen: He started when he was 5.

Lucy: And he just talked about the mistreatment that his family had while working in the fields. 

Maureen: What did you think Danny? 

Danny: I feel like his story was the most impactful. He talked about his experiences, experiencing all the negativite things in the fields. 

Maureen: After hearing this, what did you feel? Like, this is what we don’t want, what do we want?

Danny: So yes, I felt like his story was the most impactful. You know when we think of farm workers we don’t realize that they’re the ones that put food on our table and using those chemicals is not good. 

Maureen: Lucy, there was a compañera from the survey that you did this summer. Do you want to tell folks what that survey was about?

Lucy: Yeah, so this summer one of the promotoras helped me do these surveys while we went into the community and asked farm workers about their living condition and their housing.  Two of them did testimony. 

Maureen: What were their testimonies about? 

Lucy: They talked about everything they have witnessed by doing the surveys. They talked about stories they’ve heard. I remember they talked about a story that really impacted Martha. It was about these men working in milk processing or dairy and just all the mistreatment that they had to go through without being able to eat without permission of the owner. 

Maureen: Were you sharing the results of the survey? 

Lucy: Yes, we handed out papers that had the results of all the surveys that we did and what areas were bad and what areas were good. 

Maureen: Then after these testimonies which were really heavy we also talked about what was good. We talked about the co-op Tierra y Libertad and the union Familias Unidas por la Justicia. How many hours were we there?

Lucy: I think 2 or 3? Yes, it was almost 3 hours.

Maureen: What did you think after 15, or sometimes only 3 minutes to talk to your representative, comparing that to a tribunal of 3 hours? 

Lucy: I think it was pretty interesting because everywhere we would lobby, we would invite everybody to come join us [at the tribunal].

Everybody said they were going to try and see if they could make it. And only one person made it. John McCoy was the only one. 

Maureen: So for those who are listening who don’t know, Senator John McCoy is the one who is fighting strongest for this bill, SB 5438, which is the bill that will raise the standards for worker protections for H-2A guest workers. In reality this affects all farm workers, because if we begin to monitor the conditions in the fields for any workers, we improve conditions for all workers.

If only one senator was there until the end, why do you think we do this?

John: We’re fighting for justice for all immigrants and all of our people. And you have to remember that America without immigrants is nothing. 

Maureen: After the tribunal, what are the next steps?  Keep fighting.

We have, actually, SB 5438 has a hearing next week on Thursday [March 28 – already past] in Olympia at 8 a.m.. 

So if anyone listening is in support of this bill and is able to go to Olympia and sign-in in favor and even give testimony, please do so. [People can still call and write to Labor & Workplace Standards Committee members and their representatives at least through early morning April 2.] 

This is the first bill that really recognizes the labor of H2A workers as labor that is valid that requires the same protections as any other worker in this country, they’re our guests.

We also have the bill, the sanctuary bill, Keep Washington Working, which we are monitoring and we are going to be putting updates on our Facebook page. 

Maureen: Lucy, how many likes are we missing [on the Community to Community Development Facebook page]

Lucy: I think we’re missing like 300?

Maureen: To get to what?

Lucy: 10,000

Maureen: Update: live, on the radio show!

Lucy: Now, we’re at 9,977 likes.

Maureen: Ooooo.

Lucy: So, please go share.

Maureen: With 23 of your friends!

The tribunal is something that happens once a year. And after the tribunal we spend the rest of the year fighting for the demands that come from the farm worker community and the immigrant community.

So, imagine if this bill doesn’t pass to protect H-2A workers, there will be more strikes. Lucy, have you ever been to an H-2A strike?

Lucy: Yes, I have. Yes, this last summer. [at Crystal View Farm]

Maureen: And what was it like?

Lucy: It was really overwhelming. I was saddened to all the mistreatment I’ve seen, witnessed. Just inhumane.

Maureen: I couldn’t believe also that the water that came out of the taps was brown, that you could smell how bad the water was. There was only one bathroom for 92 workers. So even though farmers are coming out and saying it’s not necessary to pay to do any oversight of this program, we already know that’s a lie.

If you had more time to tell the representatives what we need, what would you have said?

John: So I think, I would tell him, we want to continue fighting and we want all the immigration detentions to be shut down, especially the one in Tacoma. We want to stop the detentions from keeping people who are just here to work and to try to support their family and have a better life.

Maureen: Danny, is there anything you would have said to the legislators in Olympia if you had time? 

Danny: So, like John said, we want to be respected and recognized and treated like equals, and not just be seen as working machines and be exploited.

Maureen: So, if there’s any elected officials listening to our show because you missed the tribunal – talking to all of you, except Senator John McCoy, (thank you for your support, Senator McCoy) – Please work to pass a bill to shut down the detention center here and set a model for the rest of the country.

Here there was a brief break in the show.

Maureen: So, we were talking in the break and Marisol [who was interpreting during the show] said something that was pretty interesting – if you don’t mind repeating it.

Marisol: Yeah, during the tribunal Areli [sp?] spoke about gathering data and she explained that they were able to gain the trust of our people because someone showed up that looked like them and that they would not have gathered this data otherwise.

Maureen: I think part of why that’s so important for our work is because now there’s so much data out there that the industry uses that they gather, and so it’s lies.

Marisol: It’s not accurate.

Maureen: So, a lot of the industry folks design their service so they get the answers they want, almost like they’re preparing the answer before they even ask the question. I know that was a big part of why this survey was done.

We also have in our own process, there was a wide spectrum of folks coming out for the tribunal and giving testimony. There were people who were working in the fields, people who had been on strike. Actually, Marciano Sanchez gave testimony about his experience being on strike at his work place and meeting the union and now he works with C2C and FUJ. And there were people giving testimony who had been affected by the H-2A program, or had family members in the H-2A program. We had Ramon Torres, the union leader there. There was also Tomas Madrigal, a PhD, taking notes about the process, and then a panel of judges. 

Then we have all the necessary levels of information to give to the government that we know more than them about what’s going on.

Since we’re wrapping up the show, wanted to give time for the next steps. I know that there’s foundation. If you could explain to me how you could donate to the organization in solidarity with the families who were affected by the ICE raid in Bellingham.

Marisol: Yes, so we are continuing to gather donations. We are continuing to help families with basic needs. We have 8 families that have little to no income because they are waiting for their court dates.  And so we can accept donations through Whatcom Community Foundation where there’s and Immigrant Relief tab on their website.

Maureen: So, if there’s an event that you’re planning in the future we are happy to share it on our Facebook, on C2C. 

Lucy: Soon we will get the information out. We’re still trying to put it all together.

Maureen: And how many surveys was it afterall? 

Lucy: It was a little bit over 300. 

Maureen: In what counties? 

Lucy: In Skagit and Whatcom.

Maureen: So, that was 100% first time work by promotoras [people conducting the surveys]. I imagined all the promotoras have already been a big part of community work doing this fight in different ways for a long time.

Lucy: Yeah, they’re excited to continue working with the surveys.

Maureen: And for everyone listening, we don’t have the date for the Farm Worker March, but as you may know from years past, after the tribunal, which builds our legislative agenda, we work all summer building up to the Farm Worker March which is somewhere in August. 

Lucy: Somewhere in the beginning of August.

Maureen: And how long is the march? 

Lucy: (Sighs) Long! (Laughs)

Maureen: Where did we begin?

Lucy: Lynden.

Maureen: So, we walked to Sumas. We walked all the way to the house where we ended the march in Sumas, which was the house of a family who supported many of the workers who left Sarbanand Farms where Ernesto Silva Ibarra [worked right before he] passed away in 2017.

John: Yes, of course we will be supporting [the march.]

Maureen:  So, we’re going to wrap up the show, but on the next show, and in future shows hopefully you will hear more voices of those who were part of the farm worker tribunal. We’re going to continue doing interviews with families who were affected by the ICE raid in August. Please support Raid Relief to Reunite Families. You heard earlier on the show how to do so but it bears repeating. Go to Whatcom Community Foundation’s page and donate. There’s an Immigrant Relief tab. In solidarity with the families who are still waiting for their court dates because of the government shut down.

Thank you for listening. 

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