The farmworkers' fight in Boardman

For three years now, there's been a big organizing battle underway in Boardman, Oregon. The United Farm Workers are seeking to organize a union at Threemile Canyon Farms - a farm noted for its 'green' agricultural practices.

Three weeks ago, the union declared that a card-check election should be called shortly.

"An overwhelming number of workers at Threemile Canyon Farms have signed union authorization cards, indicating their desire for our union to represent them," said Erik Nicholson, the union's regional director in Tacoma.

No word on whether or when the election will be held.

Here's the latest: The UFW claims that the Threemile farm has engaged in a practice of intimidating and discriminating against women -- particularly against Laura Garay, a UFW leader who happens to be pregnant:

One of Laura’s jobs was to bathe each cow’s udder with chemicals—which brings her face directly into the chemicals’ fumes. As no masks or protective gear are provided, it made her dizzy and worsened her morning sickness. Her job also required Laura to go up and down stairs. In order to protect her unborn child, Laura requested to be transferred to one of numerous other jobs at the dairy. Management said, if she could not do her job she would be fired.

A week ago, Laura slipped on cow manure and fell hard on her tail bone. She was sent to a company doctor who told her to take a day off.... At the hospital, Laura discovered the company doctor misdiagnosed her. She likely had a fracture in her back and was told to avoid any physical activity. The doctor told Laura she couldn't understand how the company physician sent her back to work so quickly.

Laura is now at home recovering, waiting to see when the doctor at the hospital will let her return to work. She told us, "I'm really afraid that because of this fall and the hard work that they assign to me that I'll have some problem with my baby. I'm also worried that they're going to fire me because I'm pregnant or retaliate against me because I fell."

What can you do?

The United Farmworkers are calling on consumers to join their cause - and pressure McDonald's to use its influence to stop the problems at Threemile. After all the McDonald's code of conduct states: "We will not do business with suppliers who fail to uphold our standards, in action as well as words."

Learn more here. Take action here. Discuss.

Comments

  • Righty (unverified)
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    "In order to protect her unborn child, Laura requested to be transferred to one of numerous other jobs at the dairy."

    Ironic that if she had wanted to kill her unborn baby many people on this site would be clamoring for my tax dollars to pay for it. Why is it that a woman's intent can change a blog into a baby and back into a blob?

    CONCERNING TO THE STORY...

    If the facts of this story are true then the woman has a great lawsuit waiting to happen and this is the perfect place for unions to organize. I do worry that the large companies that really could care less about Oregon, like McDonalds, will start buying food products from other states and countries. But what are we to do? The employers neglect the worker, the unions get greedy and price the company out of business, and the retail stores buy from distant lands.

    The key is the employer/employee relationship, one built upon mutual respect and dignity.

  • Matt Tracy (unverified)
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    Check out www.hfa.org Click on Oregon Dairy Exposed, go to the pdf.

    Here are some other problems with the Threemile Canyon "Organic/Environmentally Friendly Dairy Farm:

    January 30, 2003 More than 100 farm workers organize a 24-hour strike to protest mistreatment and low wages by Threemile Canyon Farms.

    February 2003 Sixty-nine workers initiate legal action against Threemile Canyon Farms for failure to pay minimum wage, illegal deductions from their paychecks, and retaliation for organizing activities (First letter advising dairy of claims for wages).

    June 27, 2003 Workers complain about an on-going campaign of threats and intimidation against them for demanding representation by the United Farm Workers. One worker, Carlos Jaimez, states, “A fellow worker, vocal about supporting the union, has been removed from his regular job and put in the fields pulling weeds.” According to Jaimez, the worker is barred from speaking to his fellow workers and prohibited from using the bathroom or getting a drink of water from the barn. “The head manager is always there. If he see us talking [with] him, we are fired,” Jaimez says. (Hermiston Herald, “Farm Workers allege threats, mistreatment,” June 27, 2003.)

    June 30, 2003 Oregon OSHA issues 12 citations for health and safety violations, 11 of which are categorized as “serious.” They include failing to provide eye protection for workers when using a chemical that may cause blindness, failing to provide protective equipment to workers when using a chemical that burns the eyes, causes skin irritation and is a potential cancer hazard. (OR-OSHA inspection record).

    August 19, 2003 Threemile workers air complaints in an article in the Hermiston Herald: “Solorio [a Threemile employee] worries about the chemicals being used at the farm. He doesn’t’ see any changes since OSHA cited the farm.” (Hermiston Herald, “Farm Workers Protest Treatment,” August 19, 2003.)

    September, 2003 Forty-seven workers settle minimum wage claims, illegal deductions from their paychecks and retaliation for $40,000 (Final settlement of claims).

    September 16, 2003 Twenty-two workers file suit against Threemile Canyon Farms for failing to pay minimum wage, illegal deductions from their paychecks and retaliation. (Alvaro Caldera Flores et. al vs. Columbia River Dairy LLC No. 030910188 Multnomah County Circuit Court, filed in Portland, Oregon).

    September 16, 2003 Threemile workers complain about anti-union consultants intimidating workers. Employees also complain farm supervisors are circulating an anti-union petition and threatening workers who don’t sign it. (Hermiston Herald, “Farm workers denounce subsidies,” Sept. 16, 2003.)

    February 24, 2004 Threemile workers complain to the Oregonian newspaper in Portland that they are not getting rest breaks as guaranteed by Oregon regulations. They also a file complaint with Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. (Oregonian, “Dairy workers cite poor conditions,” Feb. 24, 2004.)

    February 24, 2004 Dairy workers complain they are told to milk cows with infected udders, use front loader tractors to both distribute feed to the cows and use the same loaders to dispose of cow carcasses. (Oregonian, “Dairy workers cite poor conditions,” Feb. 24, 2004.)

    March 2004, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality asks Threemile to voluntarily cease spreading manure made from dead cows on food crops grown on the farm. (Oregonian, “Mad Cow scare delay disposal of dead cattle,” March 14, 2004.)

    July 2, 2004 Eighteen workers settle their lawsuit against Threemile Canyon Farms for $70,000 over failure to pay minimum wage, illegal deductions from their paychecks and retaliation. (Alvaro Caldera Flores et. al vs. Columbia River Dairy LLC No. 030910188 Multnomah County Circuit Court filed in Portland, Oregon).

    Sept. 25, 2004 Three women workers file suit against Threemile for sexual discrimination. Three additional women later join the lawsuit.(Flores v. Columbia River Dairy, No. 0409-09813 (Multnomah County Circuit Court, Oregon) filed in Portland, Oregon)

    Fall 2004 Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries finds that a shift supervisor did not allow workers to take meal or rest breaks. (East Oregonian, “Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Nelson’s door,” December 10, 2005.)

    April 18, 2005 Threemile files report with the Environmental Protection Agency documenting it is releasing 5.6 million pounds of ammonia into the atmosphere each year. According to an EPA database, Threemile the third largest polluter of ammonia in the United States. (April 18, 2005 EPA filing CR-ERNS 754198)

    June 3, 2005 United Farm Workers files a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development regarding conditions at Threemile Canyon Farms.

    June 27, 2005 Male worker files lawsuit against Columbia River Dairy for unlawful termination from employment, alleging that he was fired because he was a union organizer and had objected to the sexual discrimination against women by the Dairy. Worker was fired shortly after he gave testimony before the Portland, Oregon, City Council about conditions at the Dairy. (Sepulveda v. Columbia River Dairy Multnomah County Circuit Court Case No. 0512-12725 filed in Portland, Oregon).

    July 13, 2005 The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) agrees to conduct a review of the risk Threemile workers face being exposed to gasses emitted by the farm. (Tri City Herald, “Agency to Probe allegations about dairy,” July 13, 2005.)

    July 29, 2005 A front page article in the Oregonian newspaper identifies Threemile Canyon Farms as one of two likely sources of contamination that is causing acid rain in the Columbia Gorge. (Oregonian, “Tracking acid in gorge,” July 29 2005.)

    Aug. 22, 2005 Threemile agrees to settle sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by women workers in September 2004 for just under $200,000. As part of the settlement, the farm acknowledges “hiring procedures with respect to the dairy positions did not result in the hiring of female employees until at least Sept. 24, 2004.” (Settlement Agreement and General Release, Flores v. Columbia River Dairy, No. 0409-09813 Multnomah County Circuit Court, Oregon filed in Portland, Oregon).

    Nov. 2, 2005 United Farm Workers joins the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Oregon Center for Environmental Health and the Learning Disabilities Association of Oregon in filing a petition with the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency demanding the agency apply the Clean Air Act to agricultural operations such as Threemile Canyon Farms. (Oregonian, “Petition: Close Farms’ loophole on pollution,” November 2, 2005.)

    Nov. 10, 2005 Three women workers file a second lawsuit against the farm over sexual discrimination. As part of that action, attorneys file sworn affidavits from 12 current Threemile Canyon Farms employees that reveal dairy co-owner A.J. Bos said, “I don’t want women at the farm—they are only good for the bed.” (Estrada v. Columbia River Dairy Multnomah County Circuit Court Case No. 0511-11801 filed in Portland, Oregon)

    Does anyone get the impression that the company's website might be just a wee bit deceiving?

  • muckboot (unverified)
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    Threemile Canyon Farms "green?"

    Yeah, that's a joke!

    Let's just say that this disaster of an operation would be better named "Threemile Island" farm - if you get my drift.

    This corporate industrial farm is a monstrous factory farm that confines over 55 animals at one location. Confining 55 thousand pooping cows (stiiiiiinky!) in one location can never be sustainable -no matter how you look at it.

    The corporate bosses want you, the consumer, to think that they are just another "sustainable" farm when in reality this operations is a polluting disgusting mess that disrespects the workers, treats the animals inhumanely, and releases staggering amounts of toxins into our air.

    Just last year, it was found that this single operation alone release 5.6 million pounds of ammonia gas into the air each year - that's nearly 3 times the amount of ammonia gas that is released by all of Oregon's industry combined.

    Sounds really environmentally-friendly, doesn't it?

    Want to learn more about Threemile Canyon Farms? Go ask Len Bergstein about it. He's got his fingers in Threemile along with all the other polluting entities he's helped to bring in and spoil our state.

  • Len Bergstein (unverified)
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    For those readers who want to read about Threemile Canyon Farms and make up their own minds about our values and practices, I urge you to go to our website: www.threemilecanyonfarms.com - Our link to our Corporate Social Responsibility Report for 2005 will provide the metrics we apply to the critical elements of our farming and dairy operations. For more information about the humane farming association [hfa] allegations,thereader may want to contact any of the following individuals/organizations that reviewed the hfa claims and dismissed them as groundless: Katy Coba [Director of Oregon Departrment of Agriculture], Hardy Myers [Oregon Attorney General], and Morrow County District Attorney and Sheriff department. To find out why the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health[NIOSH} issued a letter saying we were in compliance with all permissable emissions levels established for workplace health and safety, you may wish to contact NIOSH officials. If the reader wants more information about the status of union organizing at Threemile Canyon Farms, here is a progress report: In August, the farm and the UFW signed a memorandum of agreement, allowing the union to have unprecedented access to workers for the purpose of soliciting signed authorization cards [a "card check" process of gaining union recognition -- as opposed to a secret ballot election]] By agreement, the managers at Threemile Canyon Farrms are to maintain strict neutrality in their communications with workers about their decision to sign or refuse to sign an authorization card.It is up to the UFW to present cards to be verified by a "Neutral third party".In return for the three key elements desired by the UFW [card check, employer neutrality and mandatory binding arbitration of the first contract], the UFW pledged that it would take all grievances and disputes relating to the memorandum of agreement to an arbitrator mutually acceptable to both parties. Attempting to organize consumer boycotts or one-sided accounts of operating practices were specifically "outlawed" by the agreement. We hope to have the cards submitted soon and to have the drama of trumped-up complaints subside since they are no longer needed as organizing tools. Legitimate employee complaints will continue to be resolved in the local courts, and the facts will determine the outcome. If you wish to learn more about Threemile Canyon Farms and think I can provide the information, please contact me through this Blue Oregon Blog.

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