More than a dozen Evans Fruit pesticide sprayers in Sunnyside walked off the job Friday over wage and safety concerns.
Several of the workers, along with the United Farm Workers, gathered outside Evans Fruit’s Yakima plant Monday to speak to media.
Evans Fruit is one of the state’s largest fruit companies with thousands of acres throughout Central Washington and packing plants in Cowiche, Tieton and Yakima.
Several workers spoke in Spanish with translation from Erik Nicholson, UFW’s national vice president. They had been working 12 to 15 hours a day, they said, with much of that time spent spraying pesticides.
Workers said they were not provided with the proper equipment to protect themselves while spraying.
“My eyes (were) constantly irritating me,” said Jorge de los Santos, 39, who worked for the company for five years.
The workers also claimed the company did not provide paid breaks and was not transparent about wages. One worker said a person pruning and spraying trees in Mattawa a year ago was paid $13.50 an hour, compared to $12.50 an hour for similar work in Sunnyside.
“All we’re asking for is for fair wages and fair (working conditions),” said Rene Isidoro, 49, who worked for Evans Fruit for five years.
Union officials and the workers said several times during the news conference they wanted to meet with company officials, including president and sales director Jeannette Evans, but they were turned down.
“The company basically said it was their way or the highway,” said Victoria Ruddy, UFW’s Pacific Northwest regional director.
An Evans Fruit employee immediately said “no comment” when a Yakima Herald-Republic reporter called the company Monday.
During the news conference, workers and supporters waved red UFW flags and yelled the union’s famed slogan, “Si Se Puede,” or “Yes, it can be done!” several times. Those driving by the plant showed their support by yelling messages of support or beeping their horns.
Ruddy said they had sent complaints regarding working conditions to the state Department of Labor and Industries. The union said it will meet with workers to determine what happens next.
“We are good workers, responsible workers,” Isidoro said. “We like the work we do. We want to do better in our work. We’re here simply to ask for better working conditions.”
Ruddy said she hopes the workers’ actions will encourage others to do the same when necessary.
“Oftentimes workers are too scared to come forward,” she said.