We often write you about the big issues facing workers across Washington. Today, I’m writing to make sure you heard this important story about a group of workers who are often overlooked: the thousands of farmworkers who pick berries and harvest vegetables all over our state.
Honesto Silva Ibarra was a 28-year-old father of three from Mexico who was working as a blueberry picker in Sumas, Washington — a small town in Whatcom County, just south of the Canadian border.
Honesto died on Sunday at Harborview Medical Center. According to his coworkers, before he was hospitalized, his supervisor at Sarbanand Farms ignored his complaints about headaches, telling him to return to work in the fields rather than providing him with medical care.
Honesto was one of about 15,000 farmworkers in Washington state on a temporary work visa this year — the H-2A visa, which allows workers to stay in the U.S. for short periods of time while performing seasonal farm work.
Dozens of Honesto’s coworkers went on strike last Friday, protesting his treatment as well as the alleged lack of healthy food, cold water, and fair working conditions on the farm. But when they returned to work on Saturday, they say they were immediately fired — and not only that, they were kicked out of their legally mandated farmworker housing. Left without homes or valid work visas to transfer elsewhere, more than 70 farmworkers are now sleeping in tents on a community member’s lawn while they decide what to do next.
This week, farmworkers have been coordinating with local organizations Community to Community Development and Familias Unidas por La Justicia to get food, tents, and other supplies for the encampment from community members, and to set up marches to fight back against Sarbanand’s unfair treatment of workers.
Honesto’s story reveals a lot more than a single injustice against a single worker. Other workers at Sarbanand report being threatened with being sent back to Mexico if they complain about their conditions, and being discouraged from taking sick days. Farmworkers are frequently the target of inhumane employers, and many immigrant workers fear the consequences of raising health and safety concerns with employers.
That’s why it’s vital that we in Washington support all workers across our state — including temporary agricultural workers like Honesto and his coworkers.
And if you want to support the encampment of Sarbanand farmworkers who were fired, click here to donate so we can send them supplies like tents, sleeping bags, and food.
Emily, Working Washington