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.