This past fall, nearly 1,000 farm workers attended a series of public rallies where many of them voiced deep concern with shrinking paychecks resulting from Washington state’s new agricultural overtime law.
Hundreds more have spoken similar frustrations with the unintended consequences of the new law in video interviews gathered primarily in orchards and at farm worker housing across the state.
But just weeks later, professional activists Andrea Schmidt and Edgar Franks, who represent themselves as championing the cause of farmworkers, said not a single word about the workers’ plight when called on to speak to a work session of the state Senate Agriculture Committee.
Many Washington farmworkers say they’re currently looking for second and third jobs to make up for the money they’ve lost, due to farms reducing work hours to comply with the new overtime rules while avoiding bankruptcy.
The silence on this problem raises troubling questions about these advocates’ credibility in speaking on behalf of workers, whether it’s before a legislative committee, in news reporting on worker issues, or even on social media.
Do Schmidt and Franks have any actionable solutions to ease workers’ immediate struggle? Have they even listened to the depth of concern so many workers are expressing? Are they willing to acknowledge the changes brought by the legal case and ensuing legislation on this issue–that they championed extensively–are far more nuanced than the false ‘oppressed workers vs. rich owners’ narrative they’ve spun?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” the more important question becomes whether Schmidt, an attorney for Columbia Legal Services, or Franks, political director for uncertified union Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), can credibly speak on behalf of farmworkers at all.
The obvious disconnect between what genuine farmworkers are saying in public and what professional activists are telling lawmakers should give anyone pause when listening to these activists’ organizations’ overheated, scorched-earth rhetoric.
Already Franks, FUJ, and the connected organization Community to Community Development led by controversial labor activist Rosalinda Guillen have been documented to spread numerous falsehoods.
These include an egregious false claim that a Sumas, Wash. blueberry farm “murdered” a worker that passed away from diabetic complications–a claim that was disproved after three separate Washington Department of Labor and Industries investigations found the farm not responsible for the tragic death of Honesto Silva Ibarra.
Among the list of false claims are the groups’ repeated insistence that there is no worker shortage in Washington farming, claiming that abuse of the federal H-2A guest worker program is “rampant,” and most recently before the state Senate Ag Committee saying Washington farmers are “making record profits.”
More and more leaders are questioning the group’s claims, and those questions have led to deep concern about the groups’ true motives.
Will our lawmakers continue inviting FUJ, Columbia Legal Services and Community to Community Development to represent farmworkers’ interests in key meetings?
If the self-proclaimed advocates for the farmworker community no longer speak for farmworkers, but instead only advance an extreme political agenda that now appears to be at odds with actual farmworkers’ concerns, should these groups be representing the farmworker community at all?
By Dillon Honcoop | Save Family Farming