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Tulip farm workers go on strike one week before popular Mount Vernon festival

Washington Bulb Company workers are demanding higher wages along with improved health and safety protocols.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Some Skagit County tulip farm workers went on strike Tuesday to demand better working conditions. The strike comes about a week before thousands of tourists are expected to visit Skagit Valley for the annual tulip festival.

At least 70 Washington Bulb Company workers were planning to picket Wednesday morning at Roozengaarde.

Workers walked out over issues with wages and demanded better health and safety protocols. Employees said they often work in harsh winter conditions with exposure to pesticides.

On Tuesday, workers approached the farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia for help. 

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Organizers posted a video on the union's Facebook page about the strike, using the timing of the popular annual festival to draw more attention to their cause.

"This is a very lucrative and very prestigious event that happens here," said Edgar Franks, with the independent union of farmworkers. "However, one of the things that many people don't talk about is the labor conditions of the workers that make [the festival] possible and what they go through."

In the video, Franks said the goal of the protest is to come to a resolution quickly.

On Wednesday morning, Roozengaarde owner Brent Roozen told KING 5 “the tulips will still be blooming, and the festival won't be impacted.”

"We always have an open-door policy here at Washington Bulb Company," said Roozen.

Roozen added they are doing everything they can to address workers' needs. He said this is the first time workers have gone on strike.

"You know upset, frustrated, saddened, so we never expected that we'd be at this point," said Roozen.

Roozen said the company has a long history of a positive relationship with their staff. According to Roozen, the discontent stems from a misunderstanding of distributing bonus pay, one that he hopes to clear up.

"We made that right by bonusing both, well all crews, at the higher level for the day and to hopefully make that right," said Roozen.

The workers, meanwhile, are hoping to work something out too, and have had no intentions to spoil this year's festival at the Washington Bulb Company's grounds.

"The workers I don't think, chose this date to ruin the tulip festival. I don't think it's in anybody's interest to go that far," Franks said. "Hopefully everything can get resolved," he said.

According to a Facebook post from Familias Unidas por la Justicia, workers voted to suspend the strike Thursday and talk with the Washington Bulb Company.

In a statement, Roozen told KING 5 he will meet with a group of employees Friday to “discuss current issues and look forward to finding solutions so that we may move forward together.”

“Washington Bulb Company has always been willing to address any and all concerns our employees bring forth. Always have been and always will be,” the statement reads.

Photos: Peak bloom at the 2021 Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

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