Farm group appeals to Secretary of Labor to halt abusive action against farms hiring guest workers

— The same farm group that helped bring national attention to the abuse of farmers by the Environmental Protection Agency in funding the What’s Upstream campaign is now appealing to the Secretary of Labor to stop the abusive actions of staff members against Washington farms using the guest worker or H-2A program.

A February 27 press release by the Department of Labor announcing a suit filed against Sakuma Brothers Farm demonstrated, according to a strongly worded letter sent to Secretary of Labor Acosta, “appears to be an effort by staff in your Department to support the goals of the activists.” The activists referred to are from Community to Community Development, a union worker center located in Bellingham, Washington, organizing opposition to the guest worker program.

“The timing and content of the press release is highly suspect,” Dillon Honcoop, communications director for Save Family Farming, said. “The release refers to enforcement action taken almost a year ago against Sakuma Brothers Farms involving allegations that have since been resolved. We have to ask why announce legal or enforcement action now, a year later, when it is old news and the allegations date back nearly five years?”

The letter to the secretary reveals some of the tactics used by the anti-guest worker activist group to interfere with the ability of farmers to hire guest workers. Community to Community, a union-organizing worker center, opposes the guest worker program believing that the severe shortage of farm workers can be exploited to impose worker unions.

“The extreme false accusations against farmers such as a farm causing a worker’s death are one thing,” Honcoop said. “But deliberately obstructing the guest worker program by providing signatures of university students posing as “domestic workers” -- who actually have no intention of working -- in order to stop the Department from allowing a farm to employ guest workers needs to be investigated. If Department staff are complicit in this kind of activism, this administration needs to be aware of it and take action.”

The letter also noted that imports of food have been rising rapidly, harming family farmers and consumers. Food imports have nearly doubled since the 1990s. Labor costs are a major reason as Washington farmers pay about 20 times more for labor than their foreign competitors. The result, according the Centers for Disease Control, is an increase in foodborne illness at a pace equal to rising imports. The Food and Drug Administration reports that imported food is five times more likely to have pesticide residue above limits than domestic food.

“We are hoping to raise the awareness of these important issues in this administration, recognizing that long time staff in these federal agencies don’t necessarily change with administration changes. We think the Secretary will be concerned about the actions of some staff in supporting the anti-guest worker activists,” Honcoop said. “Farmers need guest workers, and guest workers need these high-paying jobs -- jobs that enjoy some of the highest levels of worker protection of any employment.”



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