Business

Pasco dairy workers, supporters plan rally

PASCO -- Farm workers and their supporters who want to organize a union at a Franklin County dairy are planning a rally Friday in Pasco and intend to caravan to the dairy.

The event, called the "Beleaguered dairy workers rally for dignity," is at noon at Memorial Park. Workers then plan to go to the Ruby Ridge Dairy north of Pasco to hold a short vigil, said John Munson, executive director of the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry.

He said participants, expected to include some local clergy and church leaders, as well as students from Whitman College, don't plan to enter the property of dairy owners Dick and Ruby Bengen.

"It's not going to be a confrontational thing," Munson said. "All the workers are asking is to be treated fairly, and with respect and dignity. They want their right to organize to be recognized."

A lawsuit was filed in August in Franklin County Superior Court on behalf of 14 workers, alleging they weren't paid for all the hours they worked and were denied lunch breaks. Four also contend they were fired for attempting to organize a union.

Dick Bengen did not return a call for comment Wednesday, nor did the attorney representing him in the lawsuit, Ryan Edgley of Yakima. But Bengen has said the allegations are untrue, and in court documents answering the workers' complaints, his attorney says the four were fired for cause because of performance issues and not because they wanted to organize a union.

Bengen told the Herald in August that it was untrue that he didn't want to negotiate, and that most of the 40 workers at the dairy don't want a union.

But a local leader of the United Farm Workers has said a majority of the workers signed forms authorizing the formation of a union.

Since the lawsuit was filed, five more of the plaintiffs have been fired in what they contend was retaliation for trying to organize, according to court documents.

Since July 2009, 12 workers have been dismissed at the dairy, Munson said, including two on Feb. 24.

He said he talked to Dick Bengen about the two workers who were dismissed, and says the owner told him the two were behind in their work that day.

"He may think it's coincidental that all of the fired workers support a union," Munson said.

-- Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535; kmccullen@tricityherald.com

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