MOUNT VERNON, Wash. - Nothing says spring is in bloom like the renowned Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
Friday kicked off the first day of the annual event and will run through April 30. Thousands of people, locally and nationally, make the trip to Mount Vernon every year. Visiting the blossoming fields has been a tradition for several families.
"We’ve got a new generation coming up. It’s just awesome that they’ve been able to keep the Skagit Valley tulip festival going all these years, since we came before it was the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival," said Marcia Bumpke, visiting from Montana with her granddaughter.
"I’m reminiscing about the days where I used to have to carry all the tulips, the bounty. So, I’m kind of glad I can pass that tradition on," said Tony Burt, visiting from Burien with his wife Katie and their daughter.
"He loves flowers, he absolutely loves flowers. He’s telling us what they all smell like, which is fun. It’s just fun to get them out so they can experience all that there is out," said David Kircher, visiting from Ferndale with his two children.
Cindy Verge, executive director, said the festival accounts for $80 million of the local economy.
"It is a big deal. You have all sorts of community organizations that do fundraisers through here, people count on it for those extra wages and extra hours at they’re work place. it’s going to be a big boom, especially to our restaurant industry to have people come here and maybe have a place to eat for lunch," said Verge.
The attraction and tourism is not possible without the workers who plant the bulbs to the budding flowers. 94 employees unionized through independent farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia. They went on strike for better pay and protective gear. After three days on the picket lines and two days of negotiations, the Washington Bulb Company and the union reached an agreement on the eve of the highly anticipated festival.
"It was a good faith on the company to really open up the negotiation table and try to resolve this as quickly as possible. So, I thought that was a really positive sign," said Edgar Franks, political director for Familias Unidas por la Justicia.
The demands that were signed off on include:
- Rain Gear
- Hydrocortisone Cream
- 8 hour work days
- Improved paid sick leave
Franks explained the gloves and hydrocortisone cream were necessary demands because when daffodils are cut, their sap creates sores on worker’s hands and skin.
Washington Bulb Company also agreed to increase worker bonus pay on flower bunches and daily stems picked. The company wrote in a statement:
"Washington Bulb Company is always willing to listen to the critiques, criticisms, concerns, or any other feedback presented by our employees. We recognize there are areas for improvement within the company and hearing each individual’s voice is integral to seeking progressive solutions. Washington Bulb Company greatly values the importance of our employees to both this company and greater community. We would not be here today without each one of our employs and look forward to working for a better future together."
Franks said he hopes the improvements set the standard for the future of workers who make the farms bloom.
"If we’re talking about workers being healthy, being compensated fairly—that’s not only good for business, it’s good for the community as well," said Franks. "Now they can go to work with their heads up high and not be in fear of being intimidated or anything. There’s assurances now that they’re going to be treated fairly."