By COLIN STAUB
Flower and bulb harvest workers in Washington struck for three days—until management agreed to come to the bargaining table.
More than 70 tulip, daffodil and iris harvest workers at Washington Bulb Company in Mount Vernon, Washington walked off the job March 22. The company farms about 500 acres of daffodils, 350 acres of tulips and 150 acres of irises per year, according to the workers. It’s the largest tulip-grower in the United States, the company says.
The strike began days before the start of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which features Washington Bulb Company’s Roozengaarde tulip fields as a major attraction.
Workers reported concerns over low wages and their health and safety on the job, and they decided to present demands to management. They called Familias Unidas por la Justicia, an independent union representing about 400 farmworkers in Skagit and Whatcom counties.
The union mobilized supporters and the group rallied outside the business on March 23 on the second day of the strike. But management declined to meet with the workers and union representatives.
Management released a statement alleging “only a small number of employees are actively involved in protesting” and said the strike was spurred by an accounting error related to performance bonuses. But workers described a slew of workplace problems to the Seattle Times and the Bellingham Herald. They said workers have to buy their own medical-grade gloves. They want access to clean portable toilets. They demanded wage increases, improved sick leave and more.
The strike continued for a third day on March 24, despite workers reporting threats from management to call law enforcement. The union held a vote count at a local United Steelworkers union hall, overseen by state Rep. Debra Lekanoff, a Democrat whose district includes the bulb farm. Ninety-three workers voted to join Familias Unidas por la Justicia, which supporters said was a majority of the workforce.
Later that evening, management agreed to meet with the workers the following day, and the strike was suspended.
On March 25, a committee of harvest workers, union representatives and management met for several hours. Community to Community Development, an organization supporting the workers, reported that management “showed good faith” and that the workers’ committee shared a list of demands. Another meeting was set for the following Monday.