Northwest UU Justice Network

Workers Need a Real Sanctuary in Bellingham

On July 26 C2C stood in solidarity with Bornstein workers and their union, UFCW21 here in Bellingham. The informational picket which took place outside of the Bornstein facility during the worker's lunch break brought together people from the community and other unions. It was great to see the united support for the workers as they are heading into contract negotiations with the company.

One of the unique things of the Bornstein workers is the diversity. There are Filipinos, White, Black, Latinos, and immigrants all of whom were out on the picket line. Living in Bellingham it is a rare sight when we see people from different backgrounds at one place let alone organizing together for power in the workplace. When at the national level there is messages of divisiveness and conflict coming from the president, it is refreshing to see that at the local level workers are showing the realities that are possible when we are acting in solidarity.

One of the realities that need to be addressed is the intimidation tactics used by employers. Whenever there are immigrants workers and they begin to speak up and defend their rights in the workplace, the almost automatic response from the boss is that they will call ICE or Border Patrol. We heard this many times while we were organizing in the fields with Familias Unidas por la Justicia while they were on strike. The farm workers told us that they felt that if they went out on strike or challenged the company in any way, border patrol would come to detain them. These are tactics used by employers to keep workers in check. However, because of the solidarity between workers from other unions and community groups, the farm workers were able to make sure that their right to organize were not trampled.

During the last 4 years we saw the rise of the ultra-right. Anti-immigrant sentiments were always around. While the ultra-right was attacking immigrants by trying to deport and “building the wall” they also were attacking worker rights, by trying to pass “Right to Work” legislation. It was to our surprise to see that in the 2016 election, more than half of union workers voted in favor of Donald Trump. Two things that really stuck out. One was how workers continue to vote against their economic interest. Secondly, how many in the unions don’t see immigrants as fellow workers.

Because of the fear of the boss calling ICE or Border Patrol on workers is a legit concern among immigrant workers, we get the self censoring affect. With no strong protections set in place by local officials or community this fear will be a prevailing one and make it harder to organize or to speak out against injustices.

This is why we need a strong Sanctuary Ordinance in Bellingham, Whatcom County, and throughout the State. Not only does it reassure that everyone in our community can have peace of mind when going to work, taking kids to school, going to the grocery store, going for a walk around the block, etc, it also gives our community more say in how we hold our law enforcement departments and elected officials accountable. The ordinance the City of Bellingham passed is not the right ordinance we need. With no accountability or oversight of police, no reassurance of ICE collaboration, and given that the Bellingham Police Department is being sued for Racial Profiling, we can just trust that they are going to do the “right thing”.

A real sanctuary ordinance would have the input from those most affected. At this time when more power and resources are being given to police and Trump is pushing for more ICE and Police collaboration, we need a strong ordinance with people willing to defend it. Given the Bellingham City Council record on immigrants or standing with marginalized communities, we don’t feel that they will be strong when Trump and his Administration begin targeting our community.

Some of the immigrant Bornstein workers are hesitant to join the picket line actions because of the chilling effect that the company will target them and call Border Patrol on them. Imagine if there was a law put into place that assured workers that they would be able to participate fully with their union brothers and sisters on the picket line.

At the end of the day we are all workers and until the day comes and we recognize that our struggles are interconnected. Worker Rights are Immigrant Rights.

Follow Keep Bellingham Families Working for more updates on the fight for a real sanctuary

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Community2Community, C. (2017). Workers Need a Real Sanctuary in Bellingham. Retrieved from


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