Darigold complaint related to union effort

Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Darigold is accused of misrepresenting its milk products in a consumer complaint filed by attorneys affiliated with farmworker groups.

A consumer lawsuit that accuses a dairy cooperative of mistreating cattle appears to be part of a broader pressure campaign by a farmworkers union.

Consumers Yesenia Ruiz of Daly City, Calif., and Fernando Dorantes of Bend, Ore., claim the Darigold cooperative misrepresents how its milk is produced.

The complaint cites Darigold’s “corporate social responsibility report” as touting the company’s high standards of animal care and worker treatment.

“In reality, however, some of Darigold’s milk is produced under conditions where dairy cows are injured and sick, where despite suffering from bloody and swollen udders, cows are still milked, and where workers are denied the most basic labor protections, such as drinkable water, lunch rooms, meal and rest periods, and an environment free of discrimination,” the complaint said.

The plaintiffs allege that Darigold has marketed itself as a responsible company while ignoring reports of animal abuse and worker mistreatment by its members, thus violating consumer protection laws.

Darigold said the lawsuit is bound to fail in court and is “offensive to generations of our dairy farm families and the employees who care for our animals,” according to a statement.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Mario Martinez, who identifies himself in the complaint as working for the Law Offices of Marcos Camacho.

However, the United Farm Workers union lists him as an employee who earned more than $100,000 last year, according to a 2013 filing with federal labor officials.

Martinez also represents the United Farm Workers group in pending litigation with Ruby Ridge Dairy, a Darigold member.

Capital Press was unable to reach Martinez for comment.

The UFW has sought to unionize the dairy, which is located in Pasco, Wash.

Several employees have sued Ruby Ridge over allegations of wage law violations and unlawful dismissal.

The dairy is also pursuing claims against the UFW, accusing the union of interference with business relations, defamation and civil conspiracy.

The UFW tried to get those charges dismissed but the Washington Supreme Court allowed the case to proceed in 2012.

The parties are currently in the discovery phase of reviewing evidence but a trial date hasn’t yet been set, according to an attorney for Ruby Ridge.

During a recent press conference announcing the consumer complaint against Darigold, UFW organizer Martin Rios told Capital Press he wants the company to push for a union contract for workers at Ruby Ridge.

Farmworker Justice, a non-profit group, is also representing the plaintiffs in the recent consumer complaint.

The lawsuit is mean to press for “corporate responsibility in the middle of the supply chain,” said Jessica Felix-Romero, communications director for the group.

She acknowledged the lawsuit does relate to the dispute at Ruby Ridge Dairy.

“It is part of the larger picture, but it definitely goes beyond the specific situation of Ruby Ridge,” she said.

Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, said the group supports unionization of farmworkers.

The consumer lawsuit aims for Darigold to live up to its promises, Goldstein said. “A lawsuit is a pretty big amount of pressure.”



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