by Whatcom Wob
Several carloads of Bellingham IWW members went down to RoozenGaarde Tulip fields in Skagit County on Wednesday, March 23 to support the sudden strike called by flower harvest workers. RoozenGarde is the same as Washington Bulb Company and is the largest daffodil and tulip grower and bulb supplier in the US.
Around 100 farm workers, all of them Hispanic or indigenous Mexicans, organized with Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the groundbreaking farm workers union in the Skagit Valley. Wobblies have walked this union’s picket lines pretty much since its inception.
Several dozen supporters showed up with short notice at 7 AM to support the strikers. We gathered in the mist in a muddy parking lot at the edge of a field covered in brilliant yellow daffodils, ready for cutting. The Roozens (the owners) came out to talk and said they would meet individually with “their crew” to see what their problems were, without any “third parties.” Edgar Franks and Ramon Torres from FUJ politely informed them that there would be no more such individual meetings, as the workers now had union representation. “There is no third party,” Edgar said, “because the workers are the union.” He also reminded the Roozens that job actions and discussions are protected activity. Last year, a committee of 25 workers approached the bosses to talk about conditions and they were promptly fired.
An elected committee of workers presented a list of demands to the Roozens. They include a larger bonus for each bunch of daffodils or tulips picked, more port-a-potties, including separate ones for men and women, and to place them in each field block rather than set up further away; good quality raingear and boots provided and replaced when worn out; replacement gloves to protect harvesters’ hands from the caustic sap of the daffodils; and fewer pesticides with more notice of applications. The Roozens said, “We’ll need to talk to our lawyers,” and Ramon said, “That’s OK, we have lawyers too, but we’d rather you talk directly to the committee.”
We were then told to get off their property so we stood on the road in front of the field. The Bellingham Wobblies had both of our big IWW banners and some red picket signs. There were other homemade signs, but no other organized union presence other than FUJ and us.
The owners refused to negotiate, so the strike continued into Thursday. The Roozens saw the light, about-faced, and agreed to meet with the workers’ committee. That evening there was a union meeting at the Steelworkers Hall in Burlington. Virtually all the farm workers took out FUJ membership cards, then voted to call off the strike as long as the bosses continued to negotiate in good faith. The hugely popular Skagit Valley Tulip Festival was to start April 1, attended by thousands of tourists to see the beautiful flowers in the fields before they were cut by the largely invisible farm workers. The bosses were now under pressure to come to terms with the new union in the fields or face picket lines at the festival. That would have been a first, and would have been really bad publicity for the flower and bulb bosses.
There was a lot of media coverage at the picket line, certainly far more than previously at a farm workers action. Fox, KIRO, Skagit Valley Herald, Bellingham Herald, and Cascadia Daily News were among those who covered it. There was even a TV camera at the union meeting Thursday to record the strike vote. Increased public interest in unions, thanks to campaigns at Starbucks and Amazon, account for that.
Solidarity with the RoozenGaarde Farm Workers!