May 6, 2015
The Whatcom-Skagit general membership branch of the Industrial Workers of the World is urging everyone to join us in a boycott campaign in support of farm workers of the Familias Unidias por la Justicia (FUJ) union in NW Washington.
For decades now, the farm workers at Sakuma Brothers berry farm in Skagit County have endured inadequate housing, systematic wage theft, and racist abuse from supervisors, among many other problems. In the summer of 2013, the farm workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms went on strike and formed a union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, of over 450 indigenous Triqui and Mixteco berry pickers. After a series of strikes there was a written agreement between Sakuma and FUJ. However, Sakuma reneged on their word to the workers. After Sakuma broke promises they made during a negotiation session, the farm workers of Familias Unidas por la Justicia voted to endorse a public boycott of Sakuma, Driscoll’s berries and Haagen-Dazs ice cream (both are major buyers/packers of Sakuma berries) until the labor dispute is resolved and the workers have a contract recognizing their union.
The workers want a fair wage, health insurance, and respect on the job. In court, Familias Unidas has been recognized as a union with the right to organize and represent workers collectively. They have won landmark victories, including a settlement in which workers were collectively paid $500,000 in back wages and two rulings preventing Sakuma from changing their housing and hiring policies illegitimately. On the farm itself they have won several gains, such as the ability to take lunch breaks. However, these gains on the farm are now slipping as they have in the past. On February 3rd a farm workers tribunal took place in Olympia and members of FUJ spoke to state legislators about wage theft and working conditions at Sakuma Brothers Farm. The tribunal is an independent hearing by community judges that examines and provides judgments relative to human rights, labor rights, and civil rights abuses and the rights of peoples. The Farmworker Tribunal seeks to document and expose violations of state laws, civil rights, labor rights and human rights in Washington State’s Agricultural Industries. On March 17th in Toppenish the Washington State Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case (Demetrio et al. v. Sakuma Brothers Farms). This case will decide whether farm workers who are paid piece rate should also be compensated for rest breaks, as are wage workers in Washington State. The decision in this case will impact all Washington farm workers.
The farm workers at Sakuma are fighting against injustice on behalf of farm workers everywhere. We are reaching out to IWW branches to actively support these workers. Some ways that your group can support the farm workers is by promoting the boycott, picket stores that carry Driscoll’s, Haagen-Dazs and Sakuma Berry products, and supporting other groups’ boycott activities in your communities. The struggle of Families Unidas por la Justicia for dignity and justice in their workplace continues and it falls on everyone’s shoulders to support the people whose labor sustains us.
Whatcom-Skagit GMB, IWW
Facebook: Whatcom-Skagit IWW
For more info about Familias Unidias por la Justicia:
Boycott Sakuma Berries website
Some Facts About the Labor Dispute At Sakuma:
- Familias Unidas Por La Justicia is a farmworkers’ union of over 450 indigenous Triqui and Mixteco farmworkers. It formed out of a series of strikes which began on July 11, 2013, after a worker at Sakuma Brothers was fired for demanding a higher piece rate. There were six strikes in total that year.
- During 2013 strikes, the strike committee issued a list of 14 grievances/demands. On the list were: a higher piece rate which would enable workers to earn the minimum wage; to cease using electronic scanners which led to workers not being paid wages they were owed; to be paid overtime per state and federal law; an end to practices which violate the Civil Rights Act and state laws against harassment and hostile work environments; and respect for indigenous Triqui and Mixteco farmworkers, who allege that they are routinely called by racist slurs and treated with disrespect.
- During negotiations with Familias Unidas, Sakuma promised that there would be no reprisals against workers who went on strike and that a new piece rate would be set through a collaborative process involving farmworkers. However, after these assurances were given, Sakuma sent private security forces to the workers’ labor camps and followed them on public marches, which a judge ruled was a violation of Washington State labor law, and Sakuma refused to pay the piece rate they had agreed on with Familias Unidas. It was not until after Sakuma broke their promises and ended negotiations that the workers, through Familias Unidas, called for a consumer boycott of Sakuma products.
- Last year, Sakuma applied for 438 guest workers under the H-2A program, claiming that sufficient local labor was unavailable (the only legal reason to apply for guest workers under H-2A). However, the more than 450 farmworker families who joined Familias Unidas last year had all been clear about their intent to re-apply and delivered signed letters to this effect in order to demonstrate that Sakuma had not looked for local labor before applying for guest workers. The Department of Labor found Sakuma’s application to be deficient in multiple regards, and Sakuma ultimately withdrew the application. We contend that Sakuma could not reasonably have believed that there was a real shortage of labor given the circumstances.
- In 2014, Sakuma settled a lawsuit over allegations of wage theft and that Sakuma had denied workers breaks, agreeing to pay $500,000 to workers.
- A Skagit County judge found that Sakuma was retaliating against organizing workers by telling workers that they were ineligible to be re-hired for having missed five consecutive days − after the workers had gone on strike for six consecutive days. The judge ordered Sakuma to inform the affected workers that they were eligible to apply for work this season.
- A Skagit County judge found that changes made this year to Sakuma’s housing policy were discriminatory and ruled that Sakuma could not close its labor camps to the families of farmworkers. The changed housing policy excluded the vast majority of farmworker families who have been working at Sakuma for many years now and who are members of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia.
- While the workers of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia have been available to work, many were unable to apply until Sakuma changed their hiring and housing policies back to what they had been in previous years, which Sakuma did not do until very late in the strawberry season and only after being ordered to do so by the courts. Sakuma claims that they have had to leave 400,000 pounds of strawberries in the fields this year because of a supposed labor shortage, but any lack of labor which Sakuma may have experienced last year was a product of Sakuma’s own policies, and not because of a lack of workers who are able and willing to work.
- The farmworkers went on strike of their own initiative. After the labor dispute began, the workers sought out the assistance of Community to Community, a Bellingham-based farmworker advocacy group. The Western Washington University and University of Washington branches of Students for Farmworker Justice were formed in response to the workers’ own union calling for a consumer boycott of Sakuma berries. We are advocates of justice for all farmworkers and a food system based on sustainability and fairness, and our role is to promote the consumer boycott of Sakuma products and to support Familias Unidas Por La Justicia’s efforts to organize, which began before C2C was involved or Students for Farmworker Justice even existed.
- We love berries too! We look forward to the end of the boycott and not having to organize more pickets of Sakuma products − after Sakuma has signed a union contract with Familias Unidas Por La Justicia.