NACHES, Wash. — For almost two weeks, workers at a Naches fruit packing warehouse have shown up to strike for better protections from COVID-19 and hazard pay — come rain or shine.
That dedication continues, despite an incident Thursday where a 58-year-old man reportedly told workers on strike that he was going to kill them.
“They were threatened that they were going to get shot, so it’s pretty risky being out here,” said Edgar Franks, a representative from the farm workers union Familia Unidas por la Justicia.
According to court documents, workers were standing on the west side of Allan Road, across the street from the warehouse, when a man driving north on the road stopped and yelled, “I am going to get my 50-caliber gun and come back and shoot you all.”
Witnesses were able to capture cell phone video after the man made the statement and wrote down his license plate number. Most workers temporarily left the area, believing that the man would come back and follow through on his threat, court documents said.
Yakima County sheriff’s deputies were called to the property and when the man returned on an ATV, a detective recognized him as 58-year-old Stacey Sedge.
Deputies said Sedge admitted to driving through the area and making the threat, but told deputies he didn’t mean it and that he didn’t have any guns.
“While transporting [Sedge] to the jail, he made a statement about how Allan Bros. treats those people very well and they should not be protesting,” court documents said. “When [the detective] asked what he meant about those people, [Sedge] stated ‘the Mexicans.'”
Sedge was arrested, booked into the Yakima County jail and charged with felony harassment and malicious harassment — a charge used to prosecute hate crimes.
In court documents, deputies noted Sedge was previously convicted of malicious harassment for a 2018 incident at that same intersection wherein Sedge shot at a father and his two sons multiple times on the road after threatening to kill them and calling them racial slurs.
“Though none of the victims were struck by any of the bullets, it is possible that they could have been hit if [the father] did not speed away from the scene,” court documents said.
Sedge was let out of the jail on pretrial release. He’s scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on May 29.
In addition to the incident last week, workers on strike have been facing other struggles in their efforts to negotiate with their employers to receive additional safety measures in the warehouse and hazard pay for all employees during the pandemic.
“They want to make sure that workplaces are taking the appropriate measures to protect them,” Franks said. “If they’re being asked to work and are having to work in dangerous conditions, they deserve hazard pay.”
KAPP-KVEW has reached out to Allan Brothers Fruit officials multiple times for comment and has received no response.
For the 30 workers who remain on the sidewalk on Allan Road, wearing raincoats or huddled beneath umbrellas to combat the sporadic rain showers, worries about what comes next are ever-present. Several workers Tuesday afternoon began a hunger strike.
Members of Familia Unidas por la Justicia, like Franks, have been attending the strike daily since shortly after it began on May 7, showing up to stand in solidarity with the workers.
Franks said workers are wondering if they’ll have a job to come back to when the strike ends, or if they’ll face retaliation from their employers.
“Being replaced definitely is one of the big concerns,” Franks said. “Being out for this long without any stream of income is a pretty tough challenge.”
Franks said negotiations stalled after workers declined to accept the company’s first offer of $1 more an hour for one month.
“They haven’t been able to go back into talks for over a week,” Franks said.
Allan Brothers Fruit is just one of several fruit-packing companies whose workers have gone on strike to protest what they feel are unsafe or unfair conditions during the pandemic.
“Six different companies, three different towns,” Franks said. “This is definitely something that I haven’t seen before.”
Strikes continue Tuesday at Allan Brothers Fruit in Naches, Hansen Fruit in Yakima, Monson Fruit in Selah, Columbia Reach Pack in Yakima, Matson Fruit in Selah and Jack Frost Fruit in Yakima. Franks said generally, all the workers on strike in the Yakima Valley want the same thing.
“They don’t want to become infected and transfer it to their families or the community,” Franks said. “They believe that being out here and on strike is very important to fix the conditions inside.”