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Dairy denies union claims about worker treatment

Dan Wheat
United Farm Workers of America alleges a Sunnyside dairy is mistreating workers. The dairy owner calls it "preposterous."

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — The owner of a Sunnyside dairy calls allegations by United Farm Workers of America that it is mistreating workers “preposterous.”

The union posted a statement on its website under the heading, “Can you believe this is still happening at Darigold?” The dairy, DeRuyter Bros., is a member of Darigold, a Seattle-based milk cooperative.

But Darigold dairies are independent businesses that Darigold does not control, said Steve Rowe, senior vice president and general counsel of Darigold.

“They don’t work for us. We work for them,” he said.

UFW’s statement alleges a worker at DeRuyter Bros. worked long hours at substandard pay, was docked an extra day’s pay for taking a day off and had to eat lunch with dirty hands while working because he wasn’t given time to eat lunch.

A dairy official allegedly threw “bullet shells” on a table and yelled at a worker that if they didn’t like orders they could leave, the statement says.

Union officials could not be reached for comment as to whether the union is trying to unionize the dairy.

“I find the allegations troubling. My husband, Jake, and I take pride in operating our farm with fairness and honesty,” Genny DeRuyter, dairy co-owner said in a statement to Capital Press.

“We, as well as our management team, highly value our employees. They play a key and important role in producing high-quality milk for our cooperative. We have consistently received awards for our outstanding attention to quality,” DeRuyter said.

“I particularly find the time of these allegations ironic as we have our employee appreciation barbecue scheduled for next week,” she said. “We will be conducting our own investigation into these allegations and are confident that they are exaggerated and preposterous.”

The UFW statement likened conditions at DeRuyter Bros. to what it has said were similar conditions at Ruby Ridge Dairy in Pasco a few years ago. The UFW had been trying to unionize Ruby Ridge, That case is still in court.

UFW said it will share more in coming weeks about similar conditions at other Darigold member dairies in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Rowe said he doesn’t know the particulars of any dairy’s labor practices, but that “all DeRuyter dairies are high-quality farms” for which he has the highest respect.

“The UFW has never contacted me and they have my number,” Rowe said.

He said he believes no Darigold dairies are unionized.



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