On May 28, 2020, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee held a press conference, during which he discussed a proclamation that he asserted would, “improve our health and safety guidelines for the hard-working people of the agricultural industry.”
Bellingham, Washington, known for its unofficial nickname, “The City of Subdued Excitement,” is also known for its fairly subdued winter weather — not too cold, not much snow, but with a pretty steady stream of rain. Sunday, February 3, 2019, brought unusually frigid temperatures to Bellingham and its surrounding county. Those below freezing temperatures were accompanied by several inches of snow that fell on that Super Bowl Sunday, along with power outages which impacted thousands of Whatcom County residents. Local schools were closed the following day due to the snow.
In a full courtroom in Whatcom County District Court on Tuesday morning, June 19, 2018, attendees heard Judge Pro Tempore Dave Cottingham agree to Sarbanand Farms’ request that the $73,000 penalty it was assessed by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), be reduced by half, to $36,500. The proceedings that day serve to raise significant doubt as to the ability of state and local agencies to take actions that would adequately identify and prevent abuse of farm workers employed by farms under the H-2A visa program.
Adding to the list of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries’ (L&I) inspections of Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington, in 2017, is another safety and health inspection I learned more about on Wednesday, April 25. Inspection number 317946364 was conducted by L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) after being initiated back in June 2017, although it was not mentioned in L&I’s February 1, 2018 press release announcing its findings from investigations at Sarbanand Farms which the department initiated in August 2017.
The DOSH inspection initiated in June 2017 did find that Sarbanand Farms had committed a serious violation involving an employee injury.