Since Washington, D.C., Won’t Oversee Its Guest Worker Programs, Washington State Will

David Bacon is author of Illegal People—How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008), and The Right to Stay Home (2013). His photo journalism and writing are important contributions to bringing awareness to farmworker rights. Below is an article that David wrote about the struggle of H2A workers in Washington state, originally published in The American Prospect on July 5, 2019.

Since Washington, D.C., Won’t Oversee Its Guest Worker Programs, Washington State Will


JULY 5, 2019

Farmworkers also recently won bargaining rights in New York. But California—once the epicenter of farmworker rights—is falling behind.

Dorian Lopez, an H2A guest worker from Mexico, lives in barracks in central Washington. Photo by David Bacon

Dorian Lopez, an H2A guest worker from Mexico, lives in barracks in central Washington. Photo by David Bacon

On Wednesday morning, June 12, 21 guest workers at the King Fuji Ranch in Mattawa, Washington, didn’t file into the company orchards as usual, to thin apples. Instead, they stood with arms folded outside their bunkhouses, on strike and demanding to talk with company managers.

According to one striker, Sergio Martinez, “we’re all working as fast as we can, but the company always wants more. When we can’t make the production they’re demanding, they threaten us, telling us that if we don’t produce they won’t let us come back to work next year. We want to speak with the company, so we’re not working until they talk with us.”

Martinez and his friends have joined a labor upsurge among both H-2A guest workers and Washington’s existing immigrant farm labor workforce, which has forced its state legislature to take action to protect both. New York state has just acted to increase the labor rights of farmworkers as well. Meanwhile, California, while it’s made important advances, has yet to enact similar legislation.

Martinez voiced a complaint common among H-2A guest workers. Pressure to work harder and faster is permitted by the U.S. Department of Labor—indeed, often written into the certifications that allow growers to import workers. The job order approved by the Labor Department for King Fuji Ranch, for instance, lists the first reason why a worker can be fired: “malingers or otherwise refuses without justified cause to perform as directed the work for which the worker was recruited and hired.” If a worker’s productivity doesn’t improve after “coaching,” then “the Worker may be terminated.”

“Coaching” at King Fuji, according to Martinez, means “they threaten to send us back to Mexico.” Another worker, who preferred not to give his name, explained that “they give you three tickets [warnings], and then you get fired. They put you on the blacklist so you can’t come back next year. Workers who were fired last year aren’t here this year.”

The contracts under which workers come to the United States in the H-2A agricultural guest worker visa program allow employers to set production quotas. They can fire workers for any reason, and fired workers can no longer stay in the country. In effect, getting fired for low productivity makes a worker subject to deportation. Employers and their recruiters are allowed to maintain lists of workers who are eligible for rehire, and of those who are not—in effect, a blacklist.

The impact of this power imbalance has produced a long train of complaints of abuse. That not only led to the King Fuji workers’ strike and others like it, but also convinced the Washington state legislature to pass a new law that seeks to enforce greater protections for workers.

In February, a group of workers at the King Fuji Ranch first contacted the new union for farmworkers in Washington state, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Union president Ramon Torres and Edgar Franks, an organizer for the farmworker advocacy organization Community2Community, went to Mattawa to talk with them.

Franks says the workers were scared, but upset over their working conditions. “It was freezing and they couldn’t feel their feet or hands,” he said. “Some workers had pains in their arms and hands, but were afraid to go to the doctor because they might get written up, and with three written warnings they’d be fired.” The company required them to thin between 12 and 15 sections per day, which workers said was an impossible demand.

Workers listed other complaints as well. They had to pay for their own work gear, including $60 for work boots. They didn’t get paid rest breaks. Both are violations of the regulations governing the H-2A program. Franks and Torres were told that when workers were hired they signed an eight-page contract in English, a language they neither read nor spoke.

The two organizers explained labor rights to the workers, and agreed to stay in touch. In May, workers called Torres and Franks, asking them to come help organize a work stoppage. “They told us,” Torres recalled, “that managers had begun giving them grades like in school—A, B, C, D, and F—according to how much they produced. Workers in the F category would be sent back to Mexico, and wouldn’t be hired again next year. A lot of people were frightened by this threat, but 20 decided to act.”

“We even have bedbugs, and now they want to grade us on how clean our barracks are,” Martinez fumed. “At work, some of the foremen shout at us, and accuse us of not working well or fast enough. And when we do work fast, they cut the piece rate they’re paying us so we can’t earn as much.”

Wage cutting and work pressure are both hallmarks of the H-2A program. Companies using this labor-contracting scheme must apply to the U.S. Department of Labor, specifying the living conditions and the wages workers will receive. Each year, the federal government sets, state by state, an Adverse Effect Wage Rate—the wage that growers must pay H-2A workers. It is set at a level that supposedly won’t undermine the wages of local workers, but it’s usually just slightly above the minimum wage. In 2019, the AEWR wage in Washington increased to $15.03 from $14.12 in 2018. Washington’s minimum wage went to $12.00 this year, and will go to $13.50 next year.

On January 8, however, the day before the new H-2A wages were to go into effect, the National Council of Agricultural Employers, a national lobbying organization for U.S. growers, filed suit against the U.S. Department of Labor to roll back pay to 2018 levels. Michael Marsh, NCAE president and CEO, said the increases were “unsustainable,” and would cost growers “hundreds of millions of dollars.” The suit was dismissed in March, but, Marsh said, “we clearly understand the devastating consequences to farm and ranch families of a mandatory wage rate unconstrained by market forces and we had to act.”

The impact of market forces on farmworker wages has been devastating, and affects far more than H-2A migrants. According to the Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey, there are about 2.5 million farmworkers in the United States. About three-quarters were born outside the country, and half are undocumented. Farmworker Justice, a Washington, D.C., farmworker advocacy coalition, says the average family’s yearly income is between $17,500 and $19,999. A quarter of all farmworker families earned below the federal poverty line of $19,790.

Juan Infante thins fruit on red delicious apple trees, so that the remaining apples will grow to a large size. Photo by David Bacon

Juan Infante thins fruit on red delicious apple trees, so that the remaining apples will grow to a large size. Photo by David Bacon

Last year, growers were certified to bring in 242,762 H-2A workers—a tenth of the total agricultural workforce, and a number that is rising rapidly. Holding down their wages would save growers a lot of money, and in effect cap wage increases for farmworkers as a whole. In Washington state, growers and H-2A contractors have therefore made other efforts to roll back wages, in addition to the NCAE suit.

Last year, at the instigation of the Washington [state] Farm Labor Association (WAFLA), one of the U.S.’s largest H-2A labor contractors, Washington state’s Employment Security Department and the U.S. Department of Labor agreed to remove an AEWR piece-rate minimum for picking apples, the state’s largest harvest. Ending the piece-rate guarantee effectively lowered the harvest wage by as much as a third. The King Fuji workers have been contracted to work in the coming picking season, and are affected by this agreement.

WAFLA has a long relationship with the contractor that recruits the King Fuji workers in Mexico, CSI Visa Processing, which boasts on its website that it is the largest single recruiter of H-2A workers from Mexico, with ten offices across the country. The company was originally called Manpower of the Americas, and was created to bring workers from Mexico for what is today the largest H-2A employer: the North Carolina Growers Association.

CSI has become a recruitment behemoth, today supplying workers far beyond North Carolina. Its website boasts that “CSI processed over 30,000 H2 workers in 2017.” A CSI handout for employers says, “CSI has designed a system that is able to move thousands of workers through a very complicated U.S. Government program.” For H-2A workers, staying on the good side of the recruiter is critical, since they depend on it to return to work in the U.S. in subsequent years.

Workers recruited through CSI must sign a form in which they acknowledge that their employer can fire them for inadequate performance, in which case they will have to return to Mexico. “The boss must report me to the authorities,” it warns, “which can obviously affect my ability to return to the U.S. legally in the future.”

It is not an empty threat. Until it signed a union contract with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the North Carolina Growers Association and Manpower (as CSI was then called) maintained an “Ineligible for Rehire Report” with hundreds of names. The agreement with the FLOC is designed to prevent the use of a blacklist, but only applies to the Growers Association.

CSI still maintains lists of workers eligible for rehire, and of workers who are not. Its website warns workers, “CSI shares candidate [worker] records with companies to select whomever they see fit.” Roxana Macias, CSI’s Director of Compliance, says,“Once CSI has recruited a worker to different employers who do not request the worker back for legitimate reasons (two strike rule), CSI will not actively seek another opportunity for that worker.” Macias worked for Washington state’s Employment Security Department for two years before getting the job at CSI.


LOCAL RESIDENT farmworkers accuse growers of using the H-2A program to replace them. Columbia Legal Services sued WAFLA, CSI, and a large Washington state winery, Mercer Canyons in 2013 in one celebrated case. According to Garrett Benton, a viticulturalist and manager of the company’s grape department, when Mercer Canyons brought in WAFLA, “it left very little work for the local farmworkers.”

The rules governing the H-2A program require an employer to advertise the jobs among local residents before it can be certified. Local workers have to be offered jobs at the same pay the company plans to offer H-2A workers. Benton said many of Mercer Canyons’ longtime local workers were told there was no work available, or were referred to jobs paying just $9.88 per hour, while H-2A workers were being hired at $12 an hour. The company even reduced the hours of those local workers it did hire in order to get them to quit.

“Working conditions got so bad for the local workers that they eventually went on strike on May 1, 2013,” Benton said. “They felt strongly that they were being given harder, less desirable work for less pay. Mercer Canyons was doing everything it could to discourage local farmworkers from gaining employment.” The suit was settled in 2017, and Mercer Canyons agreed to pay workers $545,000 plus attorneys’ fees.

Washington state has given public farmworker housing subsidies to WAFLA and other growers who use the funds for H-2A housing. State Department of Commerce surveys show that 10 percent of farmworkers who are Washington residents, however, were living outdoors in a car or in a tent, and 20 percent were living in garages, shacks, or “in places not intended to serve as bedrooms.” The department refused to bar growers from using the program to house H-2A workers.


CASES LIKE THESE were among those that convinced Washington state legislators to pass a bill that promises greater protections for both H-2A workers and resident farmworkers. In March, the Senate voted up SB 5438, and the House of Representatives passed it unanimously in April. The bill will enable the state employment department to charge growers $500 per application to apply for H-2A workers, and $75 for each worker brought in. The funds will be used to set up an office tasked with monitoring labor, housing, and health and safety requirements for farms using the H-2A visa program, as well as prioritizing outreach to domestic farmworkers prior to H-2A recruitment.

In the last several years, the state Employment Security Department had stopped conducting a survey of farmworker unemployment, which previously provided guidance on the number of local workers available. The bill would fund such studies, and the investigation of complaints by both H-2A and local laborers.

These barracks, belonging to the Green Acres company, keep the company's contract H2A workers behind a barbed wire fence. Photo by David Bacon

These barracks, belonging to the Green Acres company, keep the company's contract H2A workers behind a barbed wire fence. Photo by David Bacon

In a hearing the House conducted while considering the legislation, Representative Debra Lekanoff, the first Native American woman to serve in Washington’s state legislature, said that H-2A workers contributed $5000 each to Washington’s economy, but that the federal government was dumping the cost of enforcing the program’s minimal protections onto the state. “Though this bill is not what we hoped for,” she said, “it is where we are today.”

So far, Washington state’s bill is unique. Although H-2A recruitment is taking off in other states—in the last year increasing by 38 percent in Georgia, 30 percent in Michigan, 24 percent in Arizona and California, and 20 percent in Florida—no other state is introducing its own legislation either to protect those workers or to ensure the program doesn’t undermine the local workforce.

In fact, in Washington, D.C., things seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) last month introduced the “Helping Labor Personnel on Farms Act,” H.R. 2801. It would basically end the temporary nature of H-2A employment, allowing growers to recruit and use workers year-round for two consecutive years. Afterward, workers would have to go home, with no way to gain permanent status or citizenship. (The bill has just four co-sponsors.)

According to Farmworker Justice, “too many politicians and employers view agricultural workers as disposable inputs. Immigration status should not be a mere tool for conveniently acquiring or disposing of farmworkers. Legislators need to think about the real-life impact of these policies on farmworkers and their families.”

Farmworker Justice and many farmworker unions support the “blue card,” the central provision of the federal Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019. This House bill, authored by California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, would allow undocumented farmworkers in the U.S., an estimated half of the agricultural workforce, to apply for resident status with an eventual path to citizenship.


WHILE NEW YORK STATE isn’t one of the top users of the H-2A program, and hasn’t passed a law like Washington’s, its legislature did take an enormous step on June 19. It passed a bill that will set up a process for farmworkers to win union recognition through a “card check,” a process much easier and more favorable to workers than the NLRB-style election procedure. Furthermore, the proposed law includes a process for the mediation and arbitration of first contracts once workers win recognition. And for the first time, New York farmworkers will qualify for overtime pay after 60 hours or a seventh consecutive day of work, as well as disability and worker compensation.

California farmworkers won mandatory mediation of first-time contracts in 2002, and then tried to get card check recognition unsuccessfully some years later. The New York law’s contract arbitration procedure is patterned after California’s. California farmworkers won the same overtime rights as other workers two years ago. Farmworkers in Hawaii also have overtime and the right to organize unions under state law.

Nevertheless, California does lag behind New York in getting card check recognition and behind Washington in protections for H-2A workers and resident farmworkers affected by the program. And California has by far the largest agricultural workforce in the country.

It’s not hard to understand why a state like Washington would have to compensate for the lack of action by the U.S. Department of Labor in protecting H-2A workers from abuse, and protecting local farmworkers from being displaced by the program. Look at who’s president.

But why is Washington state the only state that has taken this action?

Chiefly because Rosalinda Guillen and Community2Community (C2C) have been fighting for the guest workers for many years. The state’s new law doesn’t end that fight. That can only be done by Congress, as it did at the height of the civil rights era in 1964, when by repealing Public Law 78, it ended the bracero program.

Guillen, the daughter of a farmworker family, was an organizer for the United Farm Workers in California in the late 1990s, and later became the union’s representative in Sacramento when Dolores Huerta retired. Since returning to Washington state, she and her allies have prodded the state legislature to look into the impact of H-2A’s growth. Her allies have included Columbia Legal Services and the Northwest Justice Project, groups that advocated for both displaced local residents and guest workers themselves. C2C also won the support of the state AFL-CIO, after resident farmworkers went on strike (in part because of concern over possible replacement by H-2A workers) in 2013 and formed the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

In the last two years, Familias Unidas por la Justicia has been called upon numerous times by H-2A workers who’ve taken job action at Sarbanand Farms, Larson FruitCrystal View Raspberry Farm, and others. At the same time, Familias Unidas defends resident farmworkers impacted by the program. Before the explosive growth of the H-2A program, a large part of Washington’s farm labor force consisted of people who live in California and come north for work during the harvest season. “Who do growers think was harvesting their fruit all those years before H-2A?” asks Ramon Torres, Familias Unidas president.

H-2A workers in Washington now actually outnumber those in California, and make up a quarter of Washington’s whole farm labor workforce. California hasn’t seen H-2A worker strikes like those in Washington, in part because the supportive environment hasn’t been created there. In Sacramento, there are no organizations trying to highlight the danger of displacement of local workers by H-2A workers, as C2C has done in Washington.

Nevertheless, California is beginning to see housing problems related to H-2A, and corruption among the contractors. California Rural Legal Assistance has had several big H-2A cases, yet there’s been little media attention and no public outcry over the treatment of these workers.

Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers of the California legislature, and last November won congressional seats in the heart of Big Ag: the San Joaquin Valley. The governor, Gavin Newsom, is a San Francisco liberal. Yet you’d be hard pressed to find a California legislator who even knows what an H-2A worker is.

About the Author

David Bacon is a California writer and photojournalist; his latest book is In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte (University of California / El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2017).



"The Revolution will be Delicious," x-posted from The Community Food Co-op Magazine

By Dave Straub, Cordata Produce Department; photos by Matt Curtis

Originally posted here by the Community Food Co-Op; to see the full issue & how it appears in print click here

Meet the co-founders and worker-owners of Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad: Modesto Hernandez Leal (left) and Ramón Barba Torres (right).    They graciously welcomed a few Co-op staff for a tour of their 65-acre cooperatively owned farm in Everson, Washington.

Meet the co-founders and worker-owners of Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad: Modesto Hernandez Leal (left) and Ramón Barba Torres (right).

They graciously welcomed a few Co-op staff for a tour of their 65-acre cooperatively owned farm in Everson, Washington.

For some, the Mexican Revolution never ended, but is still fought by peaceful farmworkers with berries instead of guns. Meet Modesto Hernandez Leal and Ramón Barba Torres, co-founders and worker-owners of Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad. Through their struggle for farmworker equity, the values of the rebellion endure.

The Cooperativa’s logo depicts Emiliano Zapata with his gun edited out and replaced with a basket of berries.

Zapata famously said, “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” A phrase that has continued to inspire the dispossessed over the last 100 years, including Ramón and Modesto.

local farmworkers are proud to provide ethically produced berries from their farmworker-owned cooperative

The idea for Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad emerged during the struggle, and eventual success, to form the first farmworker-led union in Washington. Over many hours, weeks, and months of meetings, the farmworkers discussed how it would be to work without bosses or supervisors. Two years later, local farmworkers are proud to provide ethically produced berries from their farmworker-owned cooperative.

I visited Cooperativa’s 65 acres this spring. Rows of fledgling blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries stretched into the distance under a vista of Mount Baker.

Ramón is 30-something, relaxed, and slightly skeptical in a way reminiscent of Zapata portraits. Modesto smiles constantly and moves with a youthful energy despite an old injury from working in dangerous conditions. Both are proud to be farmworkers.

“They stuck well to the Earth and they are beautiful,” Ramón said of their recently transplanted blueberries.

The most skilled pickers see through the foliage and rapidly thumb only the ripest berries into their palms careful not to disturb the silvery coat of bloom dust that keeps the berries fresh.

During my tour they continued to work, pruning old growth and tearing up fistfuls of weeds while describing their dreams for the Cooperativa.

“Families shouldn’t have to struggle for land,” Ramón said.

Ramón gestured to vacant sections of land to grow corn for a future tortilla co-op, to plant an orchard, and to grow vegetables. They envision 10 families who cooperatively grow and sell their own food. “Families shouldn’t have to struggle for land,” Ramón said.

We are doing this for families, so they can eat the fruits of their labor while also having opportunity, education, and the chance to become professionals if they want

Often farm work is endured by workers who hope better for their children, but Ramón, a father of two, doesn’t see farming and education as mutually exclusive. “We are doing this for families, so they can eat the fruits of their labor while also having opportunity, education, and the chance to become professionals if they want.”

But each idyllic vision came with the caveat, “we need more money.”

Plants damaged by the harsh winter need pruning and raspberries lay untrellised because they can’t afford to pay workers.

Instead, the founders contribute sweat equity and plan to pay themselves wages when the Cooperativa becomes profitable. But that could take years.

I asked how they survived in the meantime. “Thanks to God,” Modesto said. “Farmworkers suffer to bring berries to market. To work on this project for a better future is a gift from God, but first we must pay rent.”

A sobering reminder that to peacefully change an exploitative system requires resources and the support of a community.

At the Community Food Co-op, portraits of our hardworking local farmers hang proudly above the produce department. These farmers carved a life for themselves outside big agro-business. They are also white and followed a path of relative privilege with access to education, mentors, land, equipment, and, most importantly, money.

creating an opportunity for cooperation between our two communities, separated by language and economic barriers, but who share the same values of healthy food access and farmworker equity

Meanwhile, the faces of undocumented farmworkers and H2A guest-workers, who grow the vast majority of our food, are absent. Well, here they are, creating an opportunity for cooperation between our two communities, separated by language and economic barriers, but who share the same values of healthy food access and farmworker equity.

Ramón and Modesto are hardworking, skilled, and their dreams of a better life for farmworkers deserves our support.


Follow—@tierraylibertad_coop on Instagram



Shop—Buy their berries at the Co-op this summer or go u-picking at their farm. Find u-pick information and opportunities on the Community to Community Development Facebook page.

Donate—Make checks payable to Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad and send to: TIERRA Y LIBERTAD, P.O. Box 963, Bellingham, WA 98227

Donations go toward new equipment and lease-to-own payments.

Agricultural Justice Project launches Hungry for Justice: Whose Voice is Missing?

C2C has been working with the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) since 2004. We have partnered with AJP to promote fair trade in agricultural production. We believe that this is another way for farm workers to truly have a workplace with justice.

Consumers in the U.S. deserve a label with high integrity so they can easily determine that a food product has not exploited workers or the land. AJP's Food Justice Certification is the Gold Label of social justice labeling in the marketplace.

We know that farmworkers and family farmers worked together to develop these standards. Working with AJP to implement this label on family farms creates an environment where farmers and farm workers can produce on the land with equity for all, including the land!

You can follow AJP’s public awareness-raising campaign called Hungry for Justice: Whose Voice is Missing? on Instagram at @agjusticeproject and on Facebook at Agricultural Justice Project and on twitter at @FoodJusticeCert.

From AJP:

“The food system (all the people and processes that get food to our tables) is unfair and unjust. How does it continue to be unjust? Many people are exploited, marginalized, devalued, silenced, and invisible. 

How do we make the food system more fair and more just?  We can all start by listening to those voices that are too often silenced.

That means farmworkers and family farmers, of course, but also the people who slaughter and process our meat.  It means fast food workers, local Mom and Pop grocery storesas well as people who work hard and yet aren't always sure where their next meal is coming from, and many more.

We need to hear from people who shoulder more of the burdens of our food system while reaping fewer of its benefits.  Their personal stories, experiences, ideas, and insights tell us of an inter-woven story about the root causes of injustice in our food system. It is up to us all to work together to dismantle it and replace it with a system that is fair, sustainable, healthy and just for us all. #HungryForJustice #WhoseVoiceIsMissing   #IAmResponsibleToo

Follow our journey of asking "Whose Voice is Missing?" to find out what you can do to contribute to the growing grassroots movement for change:

SB 5438 Unanimously Passes in WA House Bringing Hope for H2A Farmworker Protections

BELLINGHAM, WA April 12, 2019 – Thursday afternoon, the Washington State House of Representatives cast their votes for SB 5438, “Concerning the H-2A temporary agricultural program” a bill that would fund the establishment of an office specifically tasked with monitoring labor, housing, and health and safety requirements for farms using the H2A visa program, as well as prioritizing outreach to domestic farmworkers prior to using the H2A program. SB 5438 passed the State Senate 26-21 in early March. The final House vote on Thursday was a unanimous 96-0, demonstrating that Members of WA State House are listening to the life-and-death concerns of farmworkers on temporary work visas who help sustain the state’s agricultural production. Now the bill moves to the Senate for concurrance with the House to arrive at the final version for Governor Inslee to sign into law.

“This is not the original bill we wanted, but it is still a viable process that will help us fight for justice for farmworkers that are here already in Washington state but also protect the 30,000 guestworkers that growers are planning to bring in. Ultimately what we hope for is a food system that works for everybody,” said Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community Development (C2C).

Integral to this win along the way toward enacting this legislation, was bringing farmworker voices to Olympia and the floors of the Senate and House. C2C and Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) have been demanding oversight of the controversial H2A program due to H2A workers reaching out to state agencies about abuses and getting insufficient responses. Throughout the legislative session, C2C and FUJ brought farmworkers from Whatcom and Skagit Counties as often as three times a week to testify about their lived experiences. Before SB 5438 moved to a vote in the House Committee on Labor & Workplace Standards, C2C and FUJ held their annual Farmworker Tribunal at the capitol where farmworkers, including youth ages 11 and 17, spoke about the conditions they live and work in that negatively impact their health, education, their ability to sustain income for their families, and ultimately entrenches a food system rooted in exploitation. They also addressed these issues with farmworker-led solutions to pesticides and climate change.

Corporate farms in Washington that contract H2A workers, primarily from Mexico, have a proven track record of wage theft, dangerous working conditions, including exposure to toxic pesticides with serious health risks, and workplace retaliation. “This isn't the end of the fight for farmworker justice, this is one small piece. Testimony at this Tribunal shows us that we still need to work to protect workers from pesticides, wage theft, and all the other abuses that exist. But today we have to celebrate this,” reflected Edgar Franks, Farmworker Organizer with C2C.

Representatives Debra Lekanoff (D-40th district) and Senator John McCoy (D-38th district) have demonstrated their commitment to ending farmworker abuse and building a fair food system by championing this bill. In yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Lekanoff, the first Native American woman to serve in Washington’s state legislature, commented, “Washington state is the third largest user of H2A workers. It is also a fact that these workers boost our economy. In 2017 each worker provided a benefit of approximately $5000. That is a contribution of about $123 million to the economy. The feds are not showing up to help us, so we as the Washington state legislature will take control of this issue. Though this bill is not what we hoped for, it is where we are today. We will strive to do better, we will strive to work harder, we will strive to take care of those H2A workers who have come to rely upon us to welcome them into our America.”

SB 5438 is not the end-goal, but it sets up necessary state funding to ensure that WA State farmworkers are protected and that they are represented in the oversight process by increasing hiring of domestic workers. “Farmworkers in our community are ready to work and need these jobs. We believe that there is not a shortage of farmworkers in the state, and if there ever is a shortage, the union is ready to work with the growers to find needed labor,” said Ramon Torres, President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

2018 Seeds of Justice Awards

Community to Community Development grants Seeds of Justice Awards to community members and organizations that show exceptional leadership and solidarity reflective of C2C's mission. Rosalinda Guillen discusses the background and values behind the Seeds of Justice Award:

We started the Seeds of Justice in 2012. The idea was to thank folks that have shown above and beyond commitment to the causes that C2C has been focusing on that year. And this was inspired by the Minuteman project and the raid on NW Healthcare Linen and how people really devoted time and energy and resources to supporting immigrant families at a time when that had not been front and centered publicly. We wanted to thank people in a very public way for that support. Also we realize that our mission statement and the way that C2C does its social justice work is sometimes confusing to people because we intersect issues and we work so closely with impacted communities, and we saw the quote (on the award) from arch bishop Romero as a good fundamental base of values and principles about why people do what they do. Why do people give of their time selflessly? Why do people give of their resources selflessly? Sometimes without us even asking people show up and give. And it’s touching to us, it’s inspiring to know that as human beings we can still rally and support each other when it’s needed. In times of crisis, folks in Whatcom County have shown up. And that means something to us. And the Seeds of Justice Awards are a way for us to thank those that have done that, but then also to show the diversity of issues that we deal with and the diversity in the way that we deal with issues.

The name Seeds of Justice is also really important to us because it means that really reaching that point where we say we have justice is such a long road. It is so long and so hard. And all we can do as individuals is really plant seeds and nurture those seeds. So the Seeds of Justice Award for us is the seed that you plant for impacted communities in Whatcom County, but also we want to recognize the nurturing that people do in moving towards justice. So it’s an important award for us.

We know some people are sometimes embarrassed to be receiving an award. But we are social creatures that value connections. We value family, we value community, we value knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. And an award is a way for us to say we recognize you, we recognize why you showed up and we want to let you know that you are a part of our community, that you are one of us. That you are a part of us. We are in a struggle, and you are with us, and we see you. Thank you, but also, we know you’re not going to go away. So these awards are important to us because we know that you’re not doing the work to receive the award or giving the support to receive something, because you’ve done it for so long but we also know that you’re going to continue. It’s a meaningful recognition, it’s a meaningful sign of belonging, it’s becoming part of a family in a movement that has a long row to hoe to reach that justice point that we’re all working so hard towards.

The December 2018 Seeds of Justice Awards went to:

Peter Holcomb:  “Dedication to the Movement”

Peter Holcomb

Peter Holcomb

“When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it how we use our lives that determines what kind of person/men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”

Cuando somos verdaderamente honestos con nosotros mismos, debemos aceptar que lo único que tenemos es nuestras vidas. Así que cómo usamos nuestras vidas es lo que determina qué tipo de personas/hombres somos".

Cecilia de Leon – “For in Service There is True Life” 

“We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.”

Dena Jensen, left and Cecilia Deleon, right

Dena Jensen, left and Cecilia Deleon, right

Sacamos nuestra fuerza de la desesperación en la que nos hemos visto obligados a vivir. Pero Vamos a aguantar.

Dena Jensen and SJ Robson – “For Speaking Truth to Power”

“…there has to be someone who is willing to do it, who is willing to take whatever risks are required. I don’t think it can be done with money alone. The person has to be dedicated to the task. There has to be some other motivation.”

Dena Jensen, left and SJ Robson, right

Dena Jensen, left and SJ Robson, right

Tiene que haber alguien que esté dispuesto a hacerlo, Quién está dispuesto a tomar los riesgos que sean necesarios. No se puede hacer con dinero nomas. La persona tiene que ser dedicada a la tarea. Tiene que haber otra motivación.

Modesto Hernandez – “Campesino con Dignidad y Fuerza”

Modesto Hernandez

Modesto Hernandez

“Es posible llegar a desalentarse por la injusticia que vemos en todas partes. Pero Dios no nos prometió que el mundo sería humano y justo. Él nos da el don de la vida y nos permite elegir la forma en que vamos a utilizar nuestro tiempo limitado en la tierra. Es una oportunidad increíble".  “It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”

4th United States Food Sovereignty Alliance Hosted by C2C


photo by Colin Anderson

by Edgar Franks

Community to Community Development hosted the 4th United States Food Sovereignty Alliance National Membership Assembly here in Bellingham October 12-15. 

Over 120 people participated in the assembly, which gathers every two years to decide the direction of the United States Food Sovereignty Alliance. The participants who came were able to hear about the local context that C2C organizes in. Whether it was uplifting immigrant rights and worker organizing, or building cooperatives and the local solidarity economy, the members were able to get a glimpse of our local struggles. We at C2C were able to hear about the fight for food sovereignty from the different regions of the US, and were able to hear from our international allies. 

It was important to recognize that the work we do locally is linked to a bigger movement on a global scale — one that is being led by peasants and workers all sharing a common vision. 

The USFSA presented C2C with a recognition at our organization’s 14th Anniversary Celebration event. The youth of C2C’s Cooking Up Racial Justice program were able to perform a play that they wrote, where they told the history of the Farmworker March for Dignity. It was also an opportunity to stand in support of a group of farmworkers who were on strike that week. The independent Farmworker Union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, also recognized Benito Lopez for his leadership in forming the union and negotiating a historic contract for farmworkers. 

Two organizations were also recognized by the USFSA Food Sovereignty Prize: Organizacion Boricua and Black Mesa Water Coalition. Organizacion Boricua shared about the work they have been doing for over 30 years in Puerto Rico and how they have been practicing agroecology. They also shared the challenges that were presented by Hurricane Maria, as well as the strength of their community to rebuild Puerto Rico. Black Mesa Water Coalition shared about how they have been organizing in the Navajo Nation in Arizona. They have been fighting against Peabody Coal and working to reclaim traditional farming practices. 

Over the three days of meetings and political discussions the alliance was able to create a shared plan of work where artists, farmers, workers, and allies will be taking on a part of the responsibility to advance food sovereignty at the local level and around the nation. You can read the declaration produced in the Bellingham Assembly here.

You can read more about the USFSA here.

Community Organizing in Response to the August 29th ICE Raid

Families affected by the raid

Families affected by the raid

The August 29, 2018 ICE Raid targeting Granite Precast workers was the third major raid in our community, predated by a 2007 workplace raid at Northwest Healthcare Linen and a 2009 workplace raid at Yamato Engine Specialist. As in 2007 and 2009, the families of workers affected by the raid came directly to C2C in the aftermath. However, this raid is unprecedented in a few key ways: it did not take place at the workplace, meaning that the Granite Precast workers did not have a unified experience, they did not know whether they were being singularly targeted, and there were no witnesses. Furthermore, Granite Precast voluntarily participated in the E-Verify program, which is optional in Washington State, triggering the I-9 audit.

Following the raid, families have organized and continue to provide for each other the best they can, with the solidarity of our larger community. You can contribute to the Whatcom Community Foundation relief fund here.

We have received many questions about the raid August 29th ICE raid where workers from Granite Precast were detained. In an effort to clarify and continue to support the impacted families we met with them and have compiled the timeline below. 

February 2018: ICE conducts an I-9 audit on Granite Precast in Bellingham due to results of an E-verify scan run by the employer. The list from the I-9 audit contains the names and information of 38 undocumented employees.

August 2018: Several employees of Granite Precast note that they are being followed by unmarked vehicles on a number of occasions. 

August 29, 2018: Between the hours of 4:30 and 6:30 am, ICE detains 16 Granite Precast employees either in their homes or on their way to work. The workers are brought to a border patrol facility for holding in Ferndale.

August 29, 2018: C2C is contacted by a family member of one of the detained workers. Individuals picked up have contacted other workers from Granite Precast to warn them about the raid.

August 30, 2018: C2C holds a sunrise rally at 6 am in front of the Ferndale Border Patrol. Employees of the facility confront the protest and let them know that the workers have already been transferred to the NW Detention Center in Tacoma.

August 30, 2018: C2C holds a meeting for the affected families at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. Questions around bond fees, deportation, and what steps families can take to visit their loved ones are addressed by immigration attorney Hannah Stone.

September 1, 2018: C2C hosts a meeting of the families in their office. At that meeting Ruby Castaneda, whose husband was detained in the raid, volunteers to organize the families and assess what their needs are. The organization Raid Relief to Reunite Families is created.

September 5, 2018: Whatcom Community Foundation partners with Raid Relief to Reunite Families to support funding for bond and legal fees.

September 6, 2018: Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship partners with WCF and RRRF. 

September 7 - September 24, 2018: Six of the detained workers are released on bond. The fees, which were successively increased from $3,000 to $18,000 each, are covered by donations from the community. The workers released on bond are not allowed to work while they apply for their green cards.

During the month of September, eight of the detained workers are deported, leaving their families in Whatcom County without an income. Two of the workers remain in detention awaiting hearings to decide if they can remain here on asylum. Both of those workers are originally from Honduras. 

October 9, 2018: Catholic Community Services partners with RRRF.

Raid Relief to Reunite Families continues to self-organize regular meetings to best address the issues each family is going through, as well as shared meals. They are hosting a community meal open to the public on November 21, 2018 featuring food cooked by the families from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. You can purchase a ticket or make a donation to the dinner here.

You can read more about Raid Relief to Reunite Families here. You can listen the leaders of RRRF tell their own story on C2C’s radio show Community Voz here.

C2C's Commitment to Zero Waste

Zero-Waste transparent.png

C2C strives to be a zero-waste organization and build into our movement the practices that will protect the health of mother earth, improve equity and live in a world where we aren’t continuing to discard, use and dispose. In the current extractive capitalist system, we acknowledge the consumption that occurs and all the labor that’s involved with the production of goods we buy and the food we eat. As a farm worker led organization we believe it’s important that we work towards an agro-ecological food system that will honor and protect food producing land. Agro-ecological methods are linked in the efforts of a just transition analysis that shifts the processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. Capitalism has destroyed land held as sacred and has forced many communities to live in a state of survival. Implementing zero-waste is part of larger efforts to help reduce climate change, while eliminating the poisons to our waters, air and land that are harming the environment, people, animals and plants. 

C2C renews our commitment to be zero-waste.
Sunday, August 5th will be the re-launching to continue modeling that another world is possible!

We look forward to working with our partners in Whatcom County to have all events be ZERO WASTE!! 

Now here is what we need you to do on Sunday August 5th:

Please be respectful during the march and conscious of your waste. 

We will have a zero-waste team that will be coordinating the clean-up, but ask that you treat the space and ground we walk on with care. 

We encourage people to bring reusable water bottles to cut back on the use and disposal of plastic. 

We are asking people to bring compostable bags for trash collection. 

In Solidarity with you all in protecting Mother Earth, 

Alexander McIntyre
C2C Food Systems Fellow 

Cooking Up Racial Justice


Cooking Up Racial Justice is a summer program for youth ages 8-12 that explores concepts of identity, solidarity, and cooperation through cooking, gardening and art. It takes place at C2C’s community garden on East Bakerview Road and at First Christian Church. Kelly Shilhanek, the program's coordinator, offers the following on the program's background and current direction.

I grew up in Bellingham, and never realized the work of C2C existed (or was needed, for that matter) until 2011, when I learned about the Las Margaritas women’s cooking cooperative, which inspired me to connect with C2C. I was lucky enough to intern for two summers, in which I worked with the youth cooperative and Raices Culturales at their former garden site on Loomis Trail. This experience, and others, reshaped my life and led me to anti-racist organizing, cooking and gardening-themed youth work in Seattle Public Schools, and reimagining my relationship to money and organizing towards wealth redistribution and racial and economic justice with Resource Generation in Seattle. I moved back to Bellingham at the end of March after several months of travel, and sought to reconnect with folks in the movement in Bellingham, including C2C. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to coordinate this amazing project!

Cooking Up Racial Justice is the summer program of Raices Culturales, C2C’s historic youth program that originally began as a safe space for children whose families were impacted by immigration raids in 2006 and 2009, at Northwest Healthcare Linen, an industrial laundry business in Bellingham, and Yamato Motors. Raices Culturales (cultural roots, in English) served Latinx youth, predominantly from immigrant farmworker families and other low income working class backgrounds; it became a critical space to explore their identity and build community as Latinos and/or as undocumented youth, as well as participate in fun activities and field trips in the area. After a four-year hiatus due to C2C’s support of the farmworker-led strike and boycott of Sakuma Brothers Berry Farm and organization of the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Raices Culturales is back, with the launch of our summer program Cooking Up Racial Justice (Cocinando con Justicia Racial).  

Cooking up Racial Justice centers the experiences and the participation of youth from farmworker families but is open to young people from communities of color and low-income backgrounds in Whatcom and Skagit County. Cooking and gardening are used as vehicles to explore campesino agro-ecological knowledge and connect with cultural foods, and as opportunities for the group to practice upholding community agreements and cooperative decision-making. The broader, long term goals are for youth to understand their relationship with each other and with the land as a relationship rooted in care and dignity and in which farm work and the labor of producing food is valued and important!

An important component of Cooking Up Racial Justice is the leadership of the Food Justice Fellows, a group of young women from different high schools in Whatcom County that mentor the 14 participants and assist with the coordination of the project. Many were part of the C2C community as youth and are now sharing their knowledge and experience with the younger participants in the program. Additionally, several past participants of Raices Culturales have recently returned to C2C and are now working as promotoras (community health educators) in the farmworker community.

CURJ red table.jpg

We have met twice as a group, and in that short two week span the youth of Cooking Up Racial Justice have collectively drafted and agreed to a set a of community agreements, which includes tenets such as: include others, respect the youth, and treat others with kindness. These tenets reflect C2C's vision that society should arrange its relationships so that everyone has equitable access to the fundamental democratic processes affecting their everyday lives and are antithetical to the many injustices happening nationally and locally, including the separation of families and children by ICE at the southern border and the Supreme Court upholding the racist Muslim Ban, the Bellingham City Council continuing to allow ICE to profile, detain, and terrorize members of our community, and the State of WA’s Dept of Labor and Industries granting Sarbanand Farms a fine reduction, despite finding them guilty of denying their workers meals and rest breaks, which led to the death of guest worker Honesto Silva Ibarra last summer. Last week, participants used these values to create four incredible pizzas, a recipe they voted on to make, using their community agreements to guide them through the process of choosing ingredients, designing the pizza, and selecting names (which included “Basil Flower,” “Family Pizza,” and “Cheesy Pepper Pizza”) as a group. No easy task, considering all of their different taste buds and opinions, yet the result was absolutely delicious pizza, courtesy of the collective vision of 14 young chefs. (Special thanks to Rudy's Pizzeria who generously donated additional pizzas to make sure all program participants were well fed).


Cooking up Racial Justice will culminate with two events organized by the youth, one for their families and one for the community. Throughout the program, participants are encouraged to bring knowledge from their families into the learning and conversations we’re having together. The events give youth the opportunity to honor their family traditions and present new learnings.

Cooking Up Racial Justice will meet through August. If the youth want to keep gathering, Raices Culturales will continue into the academic year and beyond, with winter programming! Please contact or to learn more, donate to support this important program or sign up your child.


Flags created by CURJ youth will decorate the garden space 

Flags created by CURJ youth will decorate the garden space 


Shovia Muchirawehondo on the Juneteenth Celebration

Juneteenth is a holiday which celebrates 153 years of African American independence. Black Lives Matter Bellingham will put on the first ever Juneteenth celebration in Bellingham at Maritime Heritage Park on Saturday, June 16th from 4:00 - 8:00 pm. Read more about the Juneteenth celebration here. Below is an interview from Shovia Muchirawehondo, C2C's Legislative Liaison, on the connections between communities who struggle under an exploitative system.

Shovia Muchirawehondo is Community to Community's Legislative Liason

Shovia Muchirawehondo is Community to Community's Legislative Liason

I am so excited about Juneteenth. It is the celebration of African American independence which legally began in 1865. From C2C’s perspective, we celebrate this independence and also recognize the connections between the struggles that communities of color are facing. Because we all impact each other: we all have a stake in food justice and labor issues. African Americans have a history of working the land for little or no pay, we came out of that, and now you have the immigrant population stepping into it. So we have a situation of history repeating itself. Land owners don’t want to pay fair wages to farm workers and immigrant workers. C2C supports farm workers in their efforts to grow good food that is free from pesticides, and also to earn a fair wage.  Corporate farms abuse their workers not just with low wages, but in all the ways that they treat their workers. You have mothers who are working the farms and being exposed to all kinds of pesticides, families not having the proper space to rest their heads for the next day. All of these things factor into African Americans’ past. 

So you can see how our society in general has not grown. We have not learned from our past mistakes. We’re still imposing the same abuses, it’s just onto another group of people. And we do still have African Americans participating in farming and receiving low wages and unfair treatment. So these issues are important for anybody who cares about the earth and where their food comes from.

In terms of labor, the government is eroding workers’ rights in a lot of ways. The H2A program is an example of how our government sees workers as a resource instead of as human beings. You can also see cheap labor getting extracted from those incarcerated in private prisons. The government uses African Americans and Latinos in our jail system as justifiable slavery. Prisoners are exposed to some of the worst working conditions for maybe a few dollars a day. And it’s all justified. We can’t see them, they can’t see that we’re there for them. So this is a system that our corporate farms create and support. This also squeezes out small farms who are trying to do the right thing and pay fair wages. So, it doesn’t do any of us good. It is eliminating our ability to sustain a healthy world. The exploitation of workers ends in death. That’s what we’re fighting against. 


C2C stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. We will be there on Saturday for the first ever Juneteenth celebration in Bellingham, to show support and to link together what our common fight is. Food justice is an issue that disproportionally affects communities of color. Mass produced GMO foods come into our neighborhoods and we don’t have the economic stability to fight back. Whereas in wealthy white neighborhoods, you can see that people are fighting against GMOs and pesticides where people can afford to stand up for themselves. We don’t have the economic stability to do that. That’s an issue that our black communities have in common with Latino and all low income communities. We are fighting against racism and poverty on all fronts, and you can especially see that when it comes to the food we put on our tables.



The Departments of Labor, Agriculture, State, and Homeland Security are coordinating a dangerous attack on immigrants and our food system under the guise of 'streamlining and improving' the H2A guestworker visa program — by expanding and rebranding it as the H2C guestworker visa program.

On October 25, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee passed Representative Goodlatte's "Agricultural Guestworker Act" (AGA), HR 4092. The AGA was then included in a broader anti-immigrant bill, introduced by Goodlatte in January 2018: the "Securing America's Future Act of 2018," HR 4760. This bill is one of possibly multiple immigration bills the House of Representatives is planning to vote on in June.

'Streamlining and improving' is a euphemism for deregulation. If passed, this proposed legislation would:

  • Extend the use of the exploitative guestworker program (which is currently limited to temporary and seasonal jobs) throughout our entire food system: from farms and ranches to packing houses and processing plants, and from seasonal crops to year-round dairy cows and poultry farms
  • Deprive local farmworkers of jobs by reducing employers' local recruitment obligations even further
  • Limit guestworkers' access to judicial and legal assistance, while minimizing government oversight of the guestworker program
  • Create new levels of discriminatory bureaucracy and dysfunction, such as withholding 10% of guestworkers' wages until they meet a complicated series of requirements, and eliminating the requirement that employers provide housing or travel-expense reimbursement

This bill does not provide a path to citizenship for the current experienced, undocumented farmworkers or their family members. Instead, it is an attack on family-based immigration, reducing immigrant workers in the food system to individual commodities to be imported and exported cheaply for the profit of agribusiness.

Corporations like California-based Sarbanand Farms, growing berries in Whatcom County, with the help of Dan Fazio and wafla, are leading this dangerous shift in Washington State. Fazio is the Executive Director of a farm labor contracting firm now modernized to also act as a WA-based corporate grower lobby association and rebranded as wafla. Wafla is actively campaigning to support the expansion of the guestworker program into H2C, lobbying for the removal of worker protections and providing further incentive to similar employer associations. Their membership is calling their elected officials in support of Goodlatte's legislation.

Wafla made $8,191,969 this last fiscal year, compared to $150,180 only three years ago. Wafla profits off of this modern-day slave trading program: their income rises as they contract more and more H2A guestworkers in Washington, California, and more recently Idaho. This market will only expand with the proposed legislation. Unsurprisingly, there is no language in the proposed bills that would regulate employer association organizations such as wafla.

THIS IS THE TIME TO TAKE ACTION! Help us right one of the great wrongs in our food production system. Stop the expansion of H2A in WA State.


  • Call your Legislator in the House of Representatives and tell them to vote no on "Securing America's Future Act of 2018," HR 4760! To find your representative, visit:

  • Call the Attorney General and demand they investigate wafla, the largest Farm Labor Contracting business in WA State: (360) 753-6200

Learn more about the Agricultural Guestworker Act

Sarbanand: A "Dirty Dozen" Corporation contesting being fined in District Court for working a farmworker to death in Whatcom County

By Edgar Franks

On Wednesday May 23rd at 9:00am Sarbanand Farms is scheduled to appear in the Whatcom County District Court to appeal a fine that was imposed on them by the WA State Dept of Labor and Industries after the death of a worker on August 6, 2017. This is happening in a courtroom that normally handles driving citations. This is the level of disrespect we are receiving for a farmworker’s death in Whatcom County. We believe the WA State Dept of Labor and Industries has given permission to agricultural corporations and the courts to normalize the deaths of farmworkers by exploitation.

This past February, Sarbanand was fined over $150,000 for not allowing workers to take their rest breaks and lunches. Then, because the managers at Sarbanand were so cooperative, they lowered the fine by 50%!  Despite this, the state did not see fit to punish the company for negligence when after 3 weeks with no rest breaks, they denied a farmworker medical care when he was feeling ill and then sadly passed away. A fine in a traffic citation court, cut in half — and now Sarbanand is arrogantly asking the court to lower the fine even more, or worse, they may choose to go through mitigation and negotiate to an even more minimal fine. This shows what agricultural corporations like Sarbanand think a farmworker’s life is worth. If corporations can quantify in dollars the life of a worker and use a simple court process then they can just put the risk of the expense into their budgets and more farmworkers will die.

On April 25th, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) granted the condemning recognition to Sarbanand as one of the “Dirty Dozen”, which is a public shaming “award” that is given to employers who expose workers and communities to unnecessary and preventable risk and have repeated citations by relevant state and federal authorities. It is a condemnation that Sarbanand has earned through their repeated actions to avoid accountability for their gross negligence, both environmental and regarding the farmworkers. To contrast this recognition for corporate criminals, Ramon Torres, President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, was presented with the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award for his work defending and organizing farmworkers and challenging corporate abuse in agriculture.

With the amount of political power that the industry has and what we have seen happen in our local courts recently in regard to justice for people of color, it will be difficult to see a favorable ruling that will satisfy the farmworker community and those who want justice.

We at Community to Community will not rest until Sarbanand is held accountable for the death of Ernesto Silva Ibarra. In the meantime, what we see happening is that Sarbanand will continue to do business in Whatcom County as if nothing happened last August 2017.

It will be up to us a community to hold them accountable.

Farmworkers Teach the Nation's Top Chefs about Justice in the Food System

By Edgar Franks

Ramon Torres (FUJ) and Edgar Franks (C2C)

Ramon Torres (FUJ) and Edgar Franks (C2C)

Earlier this month, it was my honor to accompany Ramon Torres to Chicago so that he could receive the prestigious James Beard Leadership Award from the James Beard Foundation. These are my thoughts and perspective about the significance of this award:

When we think about the various sectors that exist within the food movement, it can be an overwhelming exercise. There are probably hundreds of moving parts that make up the food system: there are farmworkers, farmers, grocers, cooks, fast food workers, dairymen and women, urban gardeners, fisherfolk... For me personally, it wouldn't have occurred to me to think about the role chefs play in the food system and how much influence they have.

The James Beard Foundation is an organization that honors and celebrates chefs and others within the food chain for their contributions and work to make the food system sustainable for everyone. For the past 5 years, they have tried to expand their honors and recognitions beyond just chefs and restaurants, which make up only a part of the food industry. These leadership awards have begun to honor those who are doing significant work in different sectors relating to equity in the food system, such as policy-making, business, and, more recently, labor and social justice.

President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Ramon Torres, was one of the honorees for the 2018 James Beard Leadership Award due to his continuous efforts from the early stages in 2013 to the formal establishment of the first farmworker union in Washington State in over 30 years and the boycott of Driscolls, which led to the negotiation, in 2016, of one of the best contracts for farmworkers in the country.

Recognition by professional chefs of farmworker-led organizing is particularly significant considering the political climate farmworkers are living in at this time. Racist groups and racist policies make life difficult for farmworkers — this is compounded by the exploitative labor practices of the agricultural industry and the industry's false claims of a farmworker shortage to justify displacement of local farm workers as corporate growers opt for a neo-slave workforce under H2A contracts. In the summer of 2017, C2C and Familias Unidas faced down a corporate farm responsible for the death of one of 675 farmworkers brought in under the H2A program to work at Sarbanand Farms in Whatcom County.  

It was an interesting experience to see people's reactions at the awards ceremony as they heard a farmworker speak truth, whether about poverty, pesticides, or child labor. With this award, a space has opened for building an alliance that moves beyond cooking and eating at high-end restaurants, stocking food banks and more towards a solidarity framework. We hope there can be more collaboration between chefs and farmworkers in achieving justice for farmworkers and the many other exploited workers in the food chain.

In recognizing Ramon and the union, the award is also an achievement not only for the farmworker movement, but the labor movement. Some of the lowest paid work is in the food industry. It is also an industry where many immigrants work. Food worker organizing is fought at every corner and union-busting is rampant, but this recognition of Familias Unidas is an opportunity to begin a dialogue about bringing justice throughout the food chain, in which workers are seen as being as important as chefs and the people that consume their culinary creations. 

1631 Equitably Invests in Impacted Communities

C2C says YES! On I-1631! Our food system and farm workers are being impacted by climate change every day! The article by Jeff Johnson below originally appeared in the Stand.


(May 14, 2018) — We are facing an existential crisis.

We see it as sea levels rise, forcing people to flee their homes; we see it as ocean acidification, damaging shell fish and fishing habitat; we see it as glacial melt, causing flooding on the west side of our state; we see it as drought on the east side of the state; and we see it as more intense and dramatic forest fires — last summer a fire jumped 1 1/2 miles over the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington.

But climate disaster is not only and is not primarily an environmental issue. It is an economic issue that is increasingly causing job, income, and property loss. It is a social issue that is causing people to migrate out of unsafe areas and requiring more and more tax dollars from the local, state and regional levels to pay for mitigation efforts, taking desperately needed money away from health care, education, public safety needs. It is a public health issue as rates of lung disease accelerate, particularly in disproportionately impacted areas. And it is a racial issue as communities of color, who did little to cause climate change and greenhouse gas pollution, are the ones who are hardest hit by pollution and climate disaster.

Climate disaster impacts every aspect of our lives.

And if we didn’t believe our own eyes, science is telling us that we have less time than we thought to make the transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy. And with the current federal administration’s opposition to clean energy, actions at the state level are all the more important. Finally, the transition away from fossil fuels has begun. But labor and communities of color are not at the table, which means we are likely to be on the menu unless we do something about that.

Initiative 1631 gives both groups a strong voice at the table on what the transition should look like.

The Structures of I-1631

Initiative 1631 is about investing in our future. It is about investing in clean energy alternatives, clean water and air, and healthy forests. It is about equitably investing in those communities and those workers who have been disproportionately impacted by carbon pollution and climate disaster.

I-1631 will raise about $1.3 billion a year by charging a fee on carbon emissions — initially at $15 a metric ton and growing annually by $2/ton.

Seventy percent of this revenue will be invested in leveraging investments in the clean energy economy: solar and wind power, deep dive energy efficiency, building out the electric vehicle infrastructure, etc. as well as assistance to low income individuals and to dislocated workers and communities. Labor and business will co-chair the committee that oversees these investments.

Twenty percent of this revenue will be invested in clean water and healthy forests – this committee will be co-chaired by a tribal member and the environmental community.

The remainder of the funds will be invested in safe communities and administering the program.

A third committee, the Economic and Environmental Justice Panel, will be made up of seven members, five from organizations of color and tribes, and two from labor. The purpose of this committee is to ensure that the program is working and that the targeted investments, investment criteria and the “Just Transition” program are meeting the needs of disproportionately impacted communities and individuals.

Investing $1.3 billion a year is like having an additional capital budget every single year that creates tens of thousands of jobs annually.

The investments will be awarded on the basis of positive investment criteria. Preferred investments will be judged on whether they pay prevailing wages; use trained apprentices on the job; agree to community workforce agreements with local hire provisions; are women, minority or veteran owned businesses; buy clean materials (materials that have low carbon content); and whether there have been no violations of health and safety or employment standards.

Ten percent of the investments must directly and positively target disproportionately impacted communities and 25 percent of the investments must have at least an indirect and positive benefit to disproportionately impacted communities.

To prevent against leakage (companies exporting jobs and pollution out of state) companies that are energy-intensive and trade-exposed are exempt from the carbon fee. These companies account for only six percent of our state’s carbon emissions, but they represent a lot of family-wage jobs.

Finally, a “Just Transition” fund is set up, out of which dislocated fossil fuel workers are provided with wage replacement, health care and pension contributions, wage insurance, retraining opportunities, peer counseling, job search and relocation expenses. The goal is to ensure that workers and their communities are not left behind during the transition to a clean energy economy.

Initiative 1631 will dramatically reduce carbon emissions and pollution, invest in clean energy, air, water, and healthy forests, protect disproportionately impacted workers and communities, and give a voice in the transition to historically under-represented voices.

Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and 450,000 rank-and-file union members.

The Dignity Vigils: 63 Weeks and Counting

Dignity Vigils began in February of 2017 in response to Bellingham City Council ignoring community members who asked for a real Sanctuary City ordinance to be passed. Instead, on February 13, 2017 Bellingham Council passed an ordinance that does nothing to protect affected communities. Every Monday, community members come together to stand in solidarity with undocumented and immigrant families and people. In addition, we come together to stand against law enforcement and federal immigration collaboration which leads to deportation. You can find more information on Keep Bellingham Families Working here. The following post was written by Dena Louise in response to the 63rd Dignity Vigil.

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and Bellingham City Council Member Dan Hammill was present for his 3rd out of those 63.

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and the Bellingham City Council has still not strengthened the ordinance that shoved aside the Keep Bellingham Families Working Ordinance that had been created to effectively protect our immigrant and undocumented community members from persecution. 

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and there is still no citizen oversight to help ensure that no collaboration between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) occurs that can result in the persecution of immigrants who are our community members and neighbors, persecution that can include repeated and ongoing: general harrassment, investigation, court dates, apprehension, separation from family members, indefinite incarceration, abuse within immigration prisons, and/or deportation. 

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and Google searches on ICE yield pages upon pages of fresh news everyday about ICE destroying lives of immigrants and their friends and families and community members all across the nation. 

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and Council Member Hammill wants to know what vigil attendees want, after all the comments and petitions and letters and face to face input that Council Members have received since November 2016 (that included many which directly addressed specific changes sought to the Council's ordinance that the Council voted to approve on February 13, 2017) and have continued to receive for the weeks and weeks and weeks after the Council voted to adopt their ordinance.

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and Council Member Hammill says he is attending both as a public citizen and as a City Council Member and wants to know what we want without offering any indication he is attending Dignity Vigils with the intent to take action upon his constituents' needs.

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and fresh in our memories is Council Member Murphy walking by vigil attendees two weeks earlier and angrily blowing off the offer to give her a flyer about issues effecting farm workers. 

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and fresh in our memories is Council Member Lilliquist walking by on the 62nd week of Dignity Vigils, passing by the assemblage of community members, passing by the altar to honor Cesar Chavez on the anniversary of his death, passing by with no words or actions of his own to show respect for this great defender of immigrants and farm workers. 

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and fresh in our memories is the absolute absence, week after week, of Whatcom County Council action to adopt an ordinance to protect members of their community who are immigrants and undocumented, a refusal to act which has been especially memorable after we community members approached them in the summer of 2017 asking them to propose an effectively protective ordinance.

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and, yes, still fresh in the memories of we community members who came to meet with City Council Members and present the Keep Bellingham Families Working Ordinance, is the work group meeting 61 weeks ago where our ordinance was shoved aside in favor of one proposed by the Council, the workgroup where assurances were made that a forwarded copy of the Council's draft ordinance would be sent for we community members to review before the Council presented their ordinance for a vote, that draft copy finally arriving at 3 p.m on the day that Council Members voted unanimously to approve the Council-created ordinance that shoved aside our ordinance. 

63 weeks of Dignity Vigils and fresh in our memories is the people's condemnation of Bellingham City Hall on the 53rd week of Dignity Vigils, the week of Dignity Vigils where we said:

"Community to Community Development and the Whatcom Civil Rights Project have been, for years, bringing complaints, bringing evidence, talking to the Whatcom County Sheriff and the City Council and other Council Members, telling them that there was continuous, ongoing racial profiling happening. And from this racial profiling, other exploitations grew. And it was ongoing, and it was institutionalized, and we were volunteering and offering our support to change this. 

"And it built up, and built up, until the moment when we had enough support to write and present an ordinance, a legal document that was the beginning of a possible dynamic change within this government to protect these communities in the right way, in the proper way, in the dignified way, as the way our country is supposed to function. These democratic systems are supposed to function to represent us! 

"The City Council and the County Council are not clubs. They're not social groups. They are not bureaucratic mechanisms to implement bureaucracy already written into city governance. They are not administrators. They are not like county clerks. They're not supposed to be a submissive agent of the Mayor or the County Executive or the County Prosecutor - handing them a document and they say, 'this document is written this way, implement it.' No! They are elected leaders from different districts, elected by voters to represent, to bring to the city government the issues that matter to their constituents, and even possible solutions to what is happening in the neighborhoods and in the different districts of the city."

And we said:
"Kelli Linville..., we talked to her and said that the Bellingham Police Department, that there are officers in the Bellingham Police Department that are racially profiling people, and she immediately jumped and said, 'No! There is no racial profiling in the Bellingham Police Department.' And we said we have people that have suffered that racial profiling based on color, especially brown people who are immediately identified as undocumented and ICE is called. She said, 'No, that does not happen in my Police Department.'"

And we said:
"We stand by our belief in our position because we see it happening, that this is a white supremacist government. We don't believe that every single person in this building, working in this building is a white supremacist or racist, but the leadership has developed an institutionalized, a culture that dehumanizes the most vulnerable in our community. At the core of everything is a dignity of every single person in this city and the respect that we demand when we bring our complaints, and the dignity within the solutions they give us, not the disdain that we have been shown."

Community Voz Radio: "No Way to Treat a Guest" series

Community Voz is C2C's ecofeminist radio show, coming to you from the Deep North in the Pacific Northwest, presenting the grassroots work that local people are doing across intersecting movements. Our radio shows are engaging conversations about issues and news you probably won't hear anywhere else, including white supremacy, racism, settler colonialism, and patriarchy. We believe in community radio and alternative media, which highlights the character, beauty, and courage of the voices of people on the ground that need to be shared with everybody. As the organizers and activists on our show come from impacted communities, you will hear multiple, varying voices each week. Community Voz is facilitated by Junga Subedar, co-founder of the Racial Justice Coalition (RJC) and is often joined by Rosalinda Guillen (Community to Community), Michelle Vendiola (Red Line Salish Sea, RJC), and Maru Mora Villalpando (Latino Advocacy, NorthWest Detention Center Resistance). Thank you for tuning in!

The April 4th Community Voz radio discussion, Part 3 of the "No Way to Treat a Guest" series, centered around a number of dates significant to the labor movement in our country, which include the birth and death of Cesar Chavez, along with the 50th anniversary - on the day of the broadcast - of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Guests discussed their reflections on the contributions of these men, the reasons they were under attack while they were alive, and where the labor movement is at today in terms of protections for immigrant workers.

The show was hosted by Junga Subedar; featured guests were Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community Development, Michele Stelovich, President of the Northwest WA Central Labor Council, and David Bacon, a renowned photo journalist and immigrants-rights advocate. 

The seemingly impossible struggles of brown and black workers to obtain safer working conditions and reasonable pay prompted Chavez and King to be on the frontlines in their defense. King's support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis, leading up to and including the day of his assassination, occurred during the same period that Cesar Chavez was immersed in organizing and empowering the strike by Filipino and Mexican farmworkers against grape growers in California.

Thanks to those like King and Chavez who put their lives on the line, and brave workers who stepped forward to join together for their rights, much was accomplished to protect workers' safety and rights. Today, most Mexican farmworkers in Washington state are completely unrepresented by any union or bargaining organization, which leaves their destiny almost exclusively controlled by whatever corporate farms they are employed by. In the last few years, under the H-2A visa program, the importing of workers from Mexico has increased dramatically. As these workers are so overwhelmingly isolated from the surrounding community on the sole farm they can work for while they are in this country, they are at much greater risk for abuse than other farmworkers.

Learn more by listening to the show here.

YES on I-1631: Protect Washington Act campaign launch tonight!

The YES on I-1631: Bellingham Launch is tonight, Thursday April 19, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at BUF!

For the last three years, C2C, as part of Front and Centered, alongside labor unions, business, and environment, health, and faith organizations, has been building the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy—the most diverse and inclusive coalition in Washington State working on climate justice legislation. The result of this collaboration is I-1631, the Protect Washington Act.

Rosalinda Guillen and Ander Russell, the Clean Water program manager for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, recently co-authored an Op-Ed in Cascadia Weekly describing how local impacts of climate change are driving community support for this initiative. Read the full text below:

Support clean air, clean energy and healthier communities.

The work of protecting people and the planet is a roller coaster of wins and losses. Lately, we are playing a lot of defense against local, state and national groups seeking to undo decades of social and environmental progress. Washington voters will soon have an opportunity to stand up for the health of our communities, economy and climate. Will you join us in our endeavor to create a cleaner future for Washington, building healthier communities for everyone in our state?

Northwest Washington has seen the consequences of a changing climate: Last summer, wildfire smoke choked the region, while salmon died in shallowing rivers. Even so, our state’s legislature failed to pass meaningful climate legislation this year. As the federal government turns its back on the reality of climate change, the real-life consequences jeopardize the health of people and the economy.

That’s why the people of Washington are moving forward with Initiative 1631, the Protect Washington Act. This initiative will create living-wage jobs by investing in clean energy, healthy forests and clean water. With funds from a fee paid by the state’s largest polluters, we can increase the resiliency of our communities to the impacts of climate change.

For decades, corporate polluters have put profits over people while dirtying our land, air and water. Many of us already contribute to cleaning up and preventing pollution. I-1631 gives us the tools to do the job right, getting the largest polluters to fund investments in clean energy infrastructure like wind and solar, and creating lasting, well-paying, local jobs.

I-1631 is backed by diverse constituencies across the state representing working families, communities of color, environmental and clean energy advocates, health professionals, businesses, and faith organizations all committed to building our state’s economy, improving the health of our residents and leading the fight against climate change. We came together to find solutions that work for all of us—especially those from the most impacted communities, who have historically been excluded from decisions about the environment and economy, Farmworkers, labor organizers, environmental advocates, health professionals, and more came together around the same table to create a policy that reflects our shared values. Every single person wants a healthy environment and a vibrant economy that works for everyone.

Here in Whatcom County, local backers of this policy include Community to Community, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, the NW Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), Riveters Collective, 350 Bellingham,, Safeguard the Southfork, Jobs with Justice, and Mt Baker Group Sierra Club.

Climate change is happening now. We can’t wait for action any longer. Yet we must ensure that solutions to climate change are fair and equitable. In crafting this initiative, our coalition put justice and equity at the forefront. That means listening to the voices of those who are impacted and ensuring indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty are respected and upheld, all while ensuring protections for workers in all industries—from refineries to farms.

What will I-1631 invest in? Expanding renewable power generation from wind and solar. Restoring and protecting water sources, estuaries, fisheries, and marine shorelines, reducing flood risk, improving infrastructure for treating stormwater, preparing for sea-level rise and addressing ocean acidification. We’ll improve forest health and enhance preparedness for wildfires. Dedicated funds will assist low-income residents to ensure affordable energy, and support workers that may be displaced by the transition from fossil fuels to energy independence. All this means thousands of family-wage jobs across our state. Our policy also ensures public oversight and accountability for making good investments.

Sovereign indigenous nations have also expressed meaningful support for this initiative. Funds will aid climate adaptation and clean energy for native communities, and tribal governments must be consulted on projects directly impacting their land and resources.

Washingtonians have never been afraid to lead or create something new. Through people’s ballot initiatives, Washington voters have forged the way for other states on numerous policies. Now, we’re setting the course for equitable climate policy in the United States. That’s why we need your help to qualify for the ballot and to win in November.

You can join our movement today! To learn more about our policy, the coalition, or to join our campaign, visit:

Attend Bellingham’s campaign kickoff at 6:30pm April 19 at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship (1207 Ellsworth St.) to get involved in signature gathering.

MLK Day 2018 Statement: Why Daily Commitment to Racial Justice Beats an Annual Show

Third Year in a Row Community Members Voice Concerns about City’s MLK Celebration

 Dear Bellingham Community Members:

We, Community to Community Development, Racial Justice Coalition, Latino Advocacy, Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, and the Red Line Salish Sea, wish to provide some perspective on our discontent with the Bellingham MLK event.

For the last two years, impacted people and grassroots groups held space for a counter event, protesting the city’s annual MLK celebration. The counter event was intended to expose the city’s misuse of Dr. King’s birthday and messaging for their own benefit. The counter event was intended to protest the city’s abuse of power in policy-making which has detrimentally impacted the poor and people of color. The city’s actions are antithetical to Dr. King’s values, and one wonders if their MLK Jr. event is even ethical.

Before and since the first day we stood outside city hall and everyday with everything that we do, we honor Dr. King’s legacy through the actions and work of grassroots movements. Dr. King fought for Black people, people of color and the poor. He fought against capitalism, U.S. militarism and racism. Dr. King did these things by taking to the streets and marching, using direct action and civil disobedience, implementing boycotts, and demanding accountability from unjust and racist institutions. He inconvenienced people when it was called for, and ultimately sacrificed himself for the movement. We continue his work and the work of so many other social justice warriors of our past. We stand on the shoulders of our social movement leaders, we honor their memory and we will not stand by when their efforts are co-opted by the systems of power they worked to dismantle.

This past year, people of color in Whatcom County have faced many corrupt policies and attacks from local government, elected state officials and law enforcement that seem to take their lead from the trump administration. For example, law enforcement officials have bullied social movement leaders, attempting to criminalize their work, and corrupt officials have trampled free speech, one of the highest constitutional rights of our democracy. There have been continued unchecked racial profiling by law enforcement, furthering the agenda on the war on immigrants and people of color  today. Additionally, the city voted to uphold racist landmarks and refused houseless people their basic human needs and shelter, just to name a few.

Despite all the attacks, we will continue fighting for liberation and we will persevere. Nonetheless, it takes everyone’s commitment to see the pressing issues, solutions and voices to be heard. We believe that no work can happen without impacted communities leading the work. Nothing about us without us.

Grassroots efforts are working to redefine power and decision-making. We are inviting the community to attend the People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) that exemplifies participatory democracy on Sunday, January 21st. We will collectively answer, what issues we face, what the solutions are, and what actions we are taking. The PMA will take place from 9 am-5 pm at the Bellingham High School. So join us and the movement for people.

The solutions and power are in the grassroots movements of today. We stand on the shoulders of Dr. King’s legacy on his commemorative 89th birthday. We feel his spirit and take guidance, even today, from him and many of our social justice leaders. Our historical mentors live in our spaces, vigils, demonstrations, boycotts, and actions. Our community will continue to fight for Indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, the poor, and the most marginalized in our community, as Dr. King and other leaders of the past have done for us.

In closing, we ask you to critically examine the current political environment and the city’s actions, and please consider not attending the city’s MLK event.

In Peace & Solidarity,

Community to Community

Familias Unidas por la Justicia

Latino Advocacy

Racial Justice Coalition

Red Line Salish Sea



Kali Akuno on the Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-determination Amid Rise in White Supremacy

C2C is working to become a self-governing solidarity economy center fostering political movements that define their own agenda towards the creation of a local solidarity economy.

This is a video of Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi. This is a great interview that explains Cooperation Jackson’s work and political positions. For C2C the most inspiring part is at the 23 minute mark, when he focuses the discussion on the solidarity economy and how they envision building it in Jackson. Cooperation Jackson is one of several sister organizations to C2C. We also envision a solidarity economy in the North West!

An Economy that Centers Mother Earth


At C2C we propose that instead of replicating an economy that is built and centered around individualism and competition, we need an economy that centers Mother Earth, cooperation, and solidarity. An economy that is responsive, plural and sustainable for all. We call it the Solidarity Economy. The Solidarity Economy model works, it is real, we have seen it function for working people in Brazil. The Landless People's Movement in Brazil has shown us that it is possible for workers to control the resources and wealth their labor creates, protect Mother Earth and share with those in need. 

Capitalism continues to fail our communities. A recent article in The Guardian clearly depicts the reality of over 40 million people in the US and the untold masses from around the world that are struggling to live a dignified life under neoliberal capitalism. It is important to point out neoliberalism because it is the strain of the capitalist economy that now rules the majority of the world, where everything is a commodity. As Farm workers and eco-feminists we believe there are no disposable humans in our communities, we all are deserving of basic human dignity and Mother Earth needs our stewardship. Capitalism has defined who we are as a people by telling us who is worthy of a decent income, housing, food, wage, etc. This is just wrong!