From CapitalPress.com, Matthew Weaver, 8 Aug 2011.
The trial in a legal battle over unionizing efforts at an Eastern Washington dairy has been rescheduled until Feb. 29.
The case, to be heard in Franklin County Superior Court, was originally slated for Aug. 17, said attorney Kirk Peterson, who represents Ruby Ridge Dairy owners Dick and Ruby Bengen.
Several workers originally sued the dairy in 2009, claiming they were fired for their union activities, denied lunch breaks and threatened by the Bengens.
The Bengens countersued in February 2011, claiming the union, the United Farm Workers, encouraged the employees to breach their contracts and commit “wrongful or unlawful conduct.” The Bengens have also denied the union’s claims.
Franklin County Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell narrowed the focus of the case in a June decision and order. Under state law, the judge awarded $10,000 plus costs and fees to five workers — Cirilo Ramirez, Saul Solorio, Rumaldo Latino Lorios, Rafael Munez and Armando Herra — saying the court did not find evidence to support the dairy’s counterclaims of a breach of employment contract.
However, the judge dismissed claims by former dairy employees Angel Aragon, Jose Zamora Juan, Jose Miranda, Miguel Espiritu, Juan Palafox Cortes and Gildardo Perez. Mitchell said the court found “clear and convincing evidence” that they had breached their employment contracts.
According to Mitchell’s ruling, he court found “clear and convincing evidence” that Perez was seen stabbing a cow with a screwdriver and was seen stealing fuel from the dairy, Zamora failed to vaccinate cows and falsified records, Cortes harassed two other workers when they refused to join the union and Miranda failed to properly feed the cows. Espiritu disobeyed safety rules and Aragon was seen speeding through the property in his vehicle, according the ruling.
Mitchell also denied the UFW’s motion to strike the dairy’s defamation claims against the UFW and two organizers. He found “clear and convincing evidence” that the UFW and its employees, Erik Nicholson and Arturo Sepulveda, knowingly published “at least some” false statements about the dairy and the Bengens on the union’s website.
Mitchell said the dairy presented “clear and convincing evidence” that the UFW’s Nicholson and Sepulveda conspired with the original plaintiff workers to commit “illegal or improper acts” against the dairy and that several workers told others they would receive $10,000 from the union and more if they got fired.
The remaining workers’ cases will be decided in February.