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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Farm workers protest violations at E. Washington dairy

Demonstrators petition lender to hold farmer agribusiness accountable for alleged labor violations

Fired dairy farm worker Jose Miranda, right, hands Tom Tracy, general counsel for Northwest Farm Credit Services, a petition with 30,000 signatures protesting the agricultural lender's support of Ruby Ridge Dairy in Pasco, Wash., which has been accused of unfair labor practices. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The United Farm Workers and local human rights activists asked a Spokane-based agricultural lending institution on Tuesday to take their side in a labor dispute with a Franklin County dairy farm. About nine former employees of the Ruby Ridge Dairy, of Pasco, joined by union representatives and members of the Peace and Justice Action League, marched into the offices of the Northwest Farm Credit Services, 1700 S. Assembly St., in Spokane. The crowd of about 50 demonstrators presented the institution’s general counsel, Tom Tracy, with a petition signed by 30,000 supporters from across the United States, demanding that it hold the dairy owners accountable for violations of state labor law. The UFW says Northwest Farm Credit Services has loaned Ruby Ridge Dairy $13 million. About 14 current and former employees sued the dairy’s owners, Dick and Ruby Bengen, in Franklin County Superior Court in August 2009. The suit claims several of the workers were fired for attempting to organize under the auspices of the UFW. The plaintiffs accuse the Bengens of forcing them to work long days without breaks and without clean drinking water. They also say they were not paid wages equal to the number of hours worked. UFW representative Job Pozos also said that Dick Bengen threatened workers with a rifle when they asked for better working conditions. The Bengens deny the allegations and say those workers who were fired were dismissed for cause and not for attempting to organize, according to court documents. On Tuesday Tracy said it was up to the courts and state regulatory agencies, not Northwest Farm Credit Services, to determine whether Ruby Ridge Dairy is in violation of state laws, and so far that has not happened.