The state’s recent $2 million fine of Gebbers Farms has wider importance than just what happens to the large Okanogan County ag company.
Regulators are making a big statement on COVID-19 farmworker safety both with the size of the fine — one of the largest worker safety fines in state history — and with the announcement being made by a member of Gov. Jay Inslee’s cabinet.
The state and Gebbers Farms, however, are telling two different stories.
Gebbers “had no intention of following the rules as written regarding temporary agricultural worker housing and transportation,” says state Department of Labor and Industries Director Joel Sacks in a prepared statement announcing the fines.
Gebbers says that’s not true. “Gebbers Farms explicitly said the farm would comply as quickly as they could,” a company spokesperson said.
I don’t yet know what “as quickly as they could” means, but Gebbers’ response obviously wasn’t enough for the state.
Here’s what I do know:
- Employees deserve a safe workplace and should not have to to risk their health or lives to make a living.
- Employers deserve clear and fair enforcement of regulations.
- The health of our communities — of our people and our employers — is greatly affected by the actions of employers and regulators.
How this plays out will be watched closely by every ag company — and many, many other employers — as well as thousands of ag workers and their union representatives.
And our communities will be watching as well.
Vaccinations, at last
COVID-19 vaccinations have begun at Central Washington Hospital and are headed your way.
It may be months before your turn comes, so until then, do what you can — and “can” will mean very different things to different people — to stay safe and not be part of the problem.
Vaccination skeptics will argue the vaccines — any vaccines — are unsafe. But vaccines are not the threat to our communities, the coronavirus is.
Tough words for the police chief
Just what is a police department’s responsibility when it comes to enforcing the state’s pandemic rules?
A health care worker expressed her opinion about that topic in an open letter to Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown that we published online and in the paper over the weekend.
I called the chief before we published the letter and offered him the opportunity to respond to the op-ed, which the author first wrote in a Facebook post. It was sparked by an event that landed in downtown Wenatchee after having been discussed and debated for days on social media.
Long before the event, North Central Washington law enforcement agencies have taken the position that enforcing pandemic rules is not the job of police agencies.
The author of the open letter, Zoe Hedges, forcefully argued that it is their job. “I can’t emphasize this enough, public health IS public safety! Whatever convoluted line you are using to divide the two takes a lot of creative reasoning and cognitive disconnect,” Hedges wrote.
You can read the op-ed piece at wwrld.us/lettertothechief.
We’re hoping to publish a response from the chief.
When we get it wrong
Earlier this month, we published the wrong address in a photo cutline with a report about the Dec. 23 homicide on Idaho Street in Wenatchee. The reporter got it right both in the report and the cutline, but the editor messed it up in the cutline.
That would be me, knucklehead-in-chief.
When we discover we made an error, our policy is to quickly set the record straight. I found out about the error Monday morning and wrote a correction that appeared as a note online with the report, and then on Page A2 Tuesday, our first paper of the week.
If you see an error in our reporting, contact me or the journalist you believe got it wrong.
Our contact information is at the end of our online reports and at the bottom of longer stories in the paper. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-665-1161 and my name and contact information is on top of Page A2 in every paper.
I can’t promise we won’t make an error. We’re human after all. But that’s our goal and when we fall short, we set the record straight.
Russ Hemphill is managing editor of The Wenatchee World. He can be reached at 665-1161 or email@example.com.