‘No one should have to die like this’: Darigold and the pattern of deaths and injuries at Washington state dairies
The widow of a Washington state dairy worker who died a gruesome death is taking her appeal to major customers of the giant Darigold marketing cooperative across the nation because no one should have to die like this. (See: http://action.ufw.org/page/s/sfwltour )
The tragic and grisly Feb. 24, 2015, death of Randy Vasquez exposed a pattern of deaths and injuries plaguing workers at Washington state dairies—where one person is killed an average of every 16 months and an average one dairy worker injured per day, an injury rate close to 40 percent higher than most private industries. According to state data, 362 workers were injured in 2009, and 438 workers were hurt in 2013.
On the night he died, Randy, a 27 year-old milker on the night shift at River Ranch Dairy in Mabton, WA, drove a front loader to feed cattle at about 9 p.m. He was found by the next shift at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 25, strapped to the front loader six feet deep in a manure lagoon. Randy died of “asphyxiation [due to] inhalation of waste water sludge,” according to the Yakima County coroner. Apparently no one searched for him when he didn’t return for the 10 p.m. milking shift.  After investigating Randy’s death, the Washington state Labor and Industries Department cited and fined the dairy $6,800 for violations which included failing to post warning signs or fence the lagoon.. (See: http://www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/mabton-dairy-appeals-workplace-safety-fine/article_89805e06-3fbb-11e5-a95b-6313f0edd5cf.html )
The Daily Sun News newspaper reported that state officials later agreed to reduce the fine to $2,200, less than a third of the original penalty, after the dairy and the state’s powerful agricultural industry objected. (See: http://www.dailysunnews.com/news/2015/oct/13/dairy-agrees-reduced-fine-employee-workplace-death/ ) Nubia Guajardo, Randy’s widow says, “Is $2,200 all Randy’s life is worth? What do I tell our two small children who no longer have their loving father? State officials should be ashamed of themselves for slashing their already puny fine. I have faith the public won’t accept it.” Nubia visits Randy’s grave almost every day. (http://action.ufw.org/page/s/nubiasplea?source=web ).
On Sept. 2, Nubia joined other dairy workers, the United Farm Workers, Washington state labor leaders and supporters in Seattle to present more than 38,000 signatures on petitions to the CEO of Darigold, with which Riverview Ranch Dairy is affiliated. The petitions urged Darigold to meet with Nubia and the UFW about making working conditions for dairy workers safer. Darigold locked the doors of its headquarters and refused to accept the petitions.
So Nubia and the UFW are now on a five-city national tour to deliver the petitions instead to some of Darigold’s biggest customers: McDonald’s on Monday, Nov. 16 in Chicago; Target headquarters on Tuesday, Nov. 17 in Minneapolis, MN; Kroger headquarters on Wednesday Nov. 18 in Cincinnati, OH; Walmart headquarters on Thursday, Nov. 19 in Bentonville, AK; and Safeway/Albertson’s headquarters on Friday, Nov. 20 in Pleasanton, CA.
Many dairy workers are undocumented immigrants. Afraid to complain or turn to government agencies, too often they inhale foul air with bacteria and manure dust during 10 to 12 hour shifts, move quickly over slick cement floors and are kicked and stepped on by 1,500-pound animals. Too many routinely do not get rest or meal breaks.
Historically milk represents the 2nd largest agricultural commodity in Washington in terms of value of production. The direct economic impact of Washington dairy farms is valued at $1.27 billion. Indirect economic effects boost the total value to an estimated $2.3 billion (2012).
In the past 3 years, only 45 inspections on dairy farms were completed by the Washington state Labor and Industries Department.
 Please see http://action.ufw.org/page/speakout/fineslashed
 Please see http://www.thestand.org/2015/09/darigold-refuses-petitions-on-dairy-safety/