U.S.: Trouble in the Tulips: Organized Farmworkers Win Basic Demands in a Quick Strike

David Bacon

Labour Notes | March 30, 2022

Most of the tulip pickers also work seasonally at the state’s largest berry grower, where they won a union contract in a four-year fight through repeated strikes. So they’re experienced at direct action, and organized themselves quickly. Photo: Edgar Franks

MT. VERNON, WASHINGTON, March 28—Tulips and daffodils symbolize the arrival of spring, but the fields are bitterly cold when workers’ labors begin. Snow still covers the ground when workers go into the tulip rows to plant bulbs in northwest Washington state, near the Canadian border.

Once harvesting starts, so do other problems. When a worker cuts a daffodil, for instance, she or he has to avoid the liquid that oozes from the stem—a source of painful skin rashes.

Yes, the fields of flowers are so beautiful they can take your breath away, but the conditions under which they’re cultivated and harvested can be just as bad as they are for any other crop. “Tulips have always been a hard job, but it’s a job during a time of the year when work is hard to find,” says farmworker Tomas Ramon. “This year we just stopped enduring the problems. We decided things had to change.”

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