Ron Gibson has been outspoken about Farm Bureau's opposition to a bill that would address the laws governing the hiring and treatment of the nation’s farmworkers. Now, he’s on leave from his position as president of the Utah Farm Bureau and facing human trafficking allegations after video surfaced online of him allegedly assaulting a worker on his Utah farm.

Gibson was taken into custody Aug. 8 after a confrontation with a worker “escalated into a physical altercation, resulting in injuries to the employee that necessitated medical attention,” the Weber County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault, a sheriff's office spokesperson said, and “was released by the courts later that same day.”

“The investigation has also brought to light allegations of fraud and human trafficking, which are currently being thoroughly investigated by the Department of Public Safety's [State] Bureau of Investigation,” the statement said.

On Tuesday, Aug. 15, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division confirmed that WHD is investigating the matter.

Gibson, who also is an American Farm Bureau Federation board member, is on leave from both positions as the legal process plays out surrounding the assault and trafficking allegations. [Update: Gibson resigned from his UFB  position on Aug. 15.]

In the video, first reported by Utah television station KSLTV, Gibson is confronted by several workers complaining about compensation and other issues. During the discussion, Gibson approaches one of the workers and appears to strike him; the contact took place out of the view of the camera recording the exchange, but the worker then called 911 for treatment of his injuries and, later, told the TV station Gibson had backhanded him.

Some of Gibson’s employees spoke to the media and detailed concerns about their housing, including living in a home with the foul odor of an overrun septic system.

In a statement released by the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, Gibson said he “deeply” regrets the confrontation and also apologized for “allowing an argument to escalate to an altercation on my farm.

“I’m disappointed in myself. I have deep respect for the men and women willing to work on farms across America, including mine,” he added.

Gibson was one of many Farm Bureau members who had spoken out against the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in recent years, decrying the bill’s insufficient protections for agricultural employers. The bill — which offered a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s farmworkers — advanced through the House of Representatives multiple times since its original 2019 introduction but failed to gain a foothold in the Senate.

One of AFBF's principal objections to the bill was a provision that would allow farmworkers in the H-2A program to file lawsuits to enforce their job terms.

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“Nothing would be more welcome than legislation that truly addresses the needs of both growers and workers, and we are working toward that goal,” Gibson said in a 2019 statement. “However, earlier draft versions of this bill raised significant questions and concerns that need to be addressed before we can fully support the bill.” 

In 2022, Gibson told DTN he was concerned that if the bill were enacted the industry would be “stuck in a worse position from a labor perspective than we are today.”

Gibson said he is taking a leave of absence “because I don’t want this personal matter to become a distraction from the important work of the federation.” Wade Eliason, UFBF’s vice president, and the rest of the group’s board of directors are leading federation activities in Gibson’s absence.

Gibson was elected Utah Farm Bureau President in 2015 and has held the position ever since. A biography on the UFBF website notes Gibson is a sixth-generation dairy producer “affectionately known as the ‘Milkman,’” who previously served as a district and county leader for the organization.

Gibson was elected to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s board of directors in 2018 as a representative for the organization’s Western region. American Farm Bureau spokesperson Terri Moore said Gibson is “not serving in his board capacity while on leave.”

“Local authorities have asked the public to allow the investigation to run its course to ensure justice is served and the rights of all involved are fully upheld and we respect that request,” she said in an email to Agri-Pulse.

The sheriff's office said, “During this unfolding legal process, residents of Weber County are urged to exhibit patience and allow the judicial system to operate independently. The principles of transparency and accountability remain of paramount importance to ensure that justice is not only served but that the rights of both the accused and the victim are fully upheld.”

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This story was updated Aug. 15 to reflect the Labor Department's investigation of Gibson and later, Gibson's rsignation.