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After Farmworker's Death In A Manure Pond, Labor Groups To Protest At Darigold

photo courtesy of Nubia Guajardo
Randy Vasquez died in February when the front loader he was driving fell into a manure pond at the Yakima County dairy farm where he worked.

Labor groups are planning a protest on Wednesday outside the Seattle headquarters of Darigold. They say the milk-processing company's parent, the dairy farm cooperative known as the Northwest Dairy Association, needs to do more to improve employee safety after a young worker’s death earlier this year. 

According to the United Farm Workers union, 27-year-old Randy Vasquez showed up to work the night shift at Riverview Ranch in Yakima County on February 24th. He strapped himself into a front loader to go feed the cows.

"He went to work, and went to feed the cows and he just never went back to the milking parlor," said Indira Trejo, global impact coordinator for the United Farm Workers. 

Trejo says the reason he never went back to milk the cows is that the front loader he was driving fell into a manure pond. The coroner’s report says he died from inhaling waste water sludge. He wasn’t found until the next morning.

Safety Concerns

Vasquez left behind a girlfriend, Nubia Guajardo, and two young children. Guajardo will be at this week’s protest calling on Darigold to meet with her and the United Farm Workers to talk about worker safety. 

A  spokeswoman for Darigold and the Northwest Dairy Association declined to say whether company leaders will meet with Guajardo and the United Farm Workers. 

But in a statement, the association said it offers "our sincere sympathy" to Vasquez's family. 

"This accident was truly an anomaly," the association said. "It is our understanding that the dairy where Mr. Vasquez worked has had a very good safety record. Nonetheless, the farm owner is committed to a thorough examination of what happened, looking at all information as it becomes available and, if appropriate, making changes."

The state Department of Labor and Industries cited Riverview Ranch over Vasquez's death and assessed a penalty of $6,800, saying there weren't hazard signs posted near the manure pit and it wasn't separated by fencing. 

The farm is appealing the citation and penalty on the advice of the Washington Farm Bureau. Jeff Lutz, a safety director with the farm bureau, said the accident was tragic but that the farm has a higher safety rating than average. The owner of Riverview Ranch declined to comment.

Trejo says there's a larger safety problem at dairy farms in the state. She points to state data showing that 438 workers were injured on Washington dairy farms in 2013, and she said she thinks there are more injuries than that but that many workers are too scared to come forward for fear of being fired or deported.