Tulip, daffodil farmworkers strike over wages, conditions

March 24, 2022 GMT

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — A group of Washington state tulip and daffodil farm workers have gone on strike to demand that the Washington Bulb Co. improve wages and health and safety protocols.

The strike comes just ahead of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, one of the area’s main tourist attractions that starts April 1. Washington Bulb Company is owned by RoozenGaarde Flowers and Bulbs, one of the largest employers in the Skagit Valley north of Seattle.

Rosa Martinez held up a sign over her head Wednesday that read “huelga” — Spanish for “strike” — with hands covered in clusters of sores she says were caused by the caustic liquid daffodils release when cut, The Seattle Times reported.

Martinez said she and other field workers buy their own medical-grade disposable gloves, and are only provided a small container of ointment to treat sores upon request.

That and several other complaints prompted Martinez and more than 70 other farmworkers employed by Washington Bulb Co. to walk off the job Wednesday. With the help of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, an independent union of Indigenous families, the workers are also demanding an increase in wages, guaranteed eight-hour workdays, improved sick leave and safer application of pesticides.

They also want sick leave to begin accruing and be accessible at the onset of seasonal employment and they want their hourly rate to cover the time they spend walking from their cars to and from the fields, among other demands.

Owner Brent Roozen said the strike will not impact the festival. He said the company has a “long history of positive working relationships” with workers and called the strike “upsetting” to the company and its other employees. He said some of the workers’ complaints stem from an error made in calculating daily performance bonuses for two crews, which he said had been fixed.

“We feel we’re as transparent as possible,” he said.

Skagit Valley’s economy, much like the rest of Washington’s agricultural regions, relies heavily on immigrant labor, with workers often forced to toil in harsh weather conditions.