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Sarbanand Farms Workers Protest After Employee Death

A 28-year-old temporary farm worker for Sarbanand Farms died on Saturday, Aug. 6, and workers now are calling for better conditions.

Honesto Silva Ibarra, a temporary worker for Sarbanand Farms in Suma, Wash., died on Sunday, Aug. 6. Now, workers are protesting, citing allegations of mistreatment and unsafe conditions at the blueberry grower’s job sites and living quarters.

According to news reports, Ibarra, a 28-year-old working under an H-2A agricultural visa, first became ill on Monday, July 31 and complained of a headache to managers on Wednesday, Aug. 2. After returning to his cabin to rest, he allegedly was told he needed to return to work.

“And when the shift ended the next day, he went back to work also still with headaches. And the weather was hotter that day. He told again the supervisor how he felt. Again the supervisor ignored him in his request. He went back to his cabin. He couldn't take it anymore,” coworker Barbaro Rosas Olibares told The Stranger.

Ibarra then requested to be taken to the airport to return to Mexico, but discovered his visa was expired as of June 30. Shortly after, he went to a local clinic and eventually was transferred to Harborview Medical Center, where Ibarra died Saturday.

Suma, Wash., about two hours outside of Seattle, recently had been experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees during the hottest parts of the day. Ibarra initially was treated for dehydration and later suffered cardiac arrest.

The company has responded, denying that Ibarra told supervisors about his medical conditions or illnesses. Sarbanand Farms, in a written statement, claims that Ibarra never disclosed his diabetes, and the first the company staff learned of any disease was on Wednesday, Aug. 2.

In response to news reports, the company claims Ibarra never made the request to be taken to the airport to be flown back to Mexico. It also says his wife and family, the majority of which maintain residence out of the country, will not be responsible for medical care. Sarbanand’s entire statement can be found at the Lynden Tribune.

Since then, more than 70 workers for the blueberry grower were fired for insubordination after refusing to return to work and also currently are displaced from their living quarters. The employees protested, saying Ibarra did complain, and they were exposed to long work hours and unsafe conditions.

“We are aware of the situation. It is a labor issue and we do not comment on such matters other than to say we hope the issues can be resolved,” Farm representative Norm Hartman told the Lynden Tribune in an email.

Ibarra leaves behind a wife and three children.

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