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Sakuma farm workers: We want a contract!

This statement by the elected Committee members of the Familias Unidas por la Justicia is being distributed to the public and to supporters of the farm worker struggle in Burlington, WA. The group is urging consumers to boycott Sakuma Brothers products.

Sakuma Berry Farms Driven by Shame and Dishonor?

This weekend October 5th and 6th was the Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms; but how can you celebrate a festival of family farms without us the farmworker families? You see the farmland and the owners, but not the workers. We have a different reality that is silenced and invisible.

We are Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

We are 300-plus predominantly Triqui and Mixteco people; Spanish is our second or third language. We travel with our families from California to pick berries throughout the West Coast.

sakuma-farmworkers-strike-2Many of us have been coming to Skagit County to pick Strawberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries for Sakuma Brothers Farms for years. Every year that we have been coming to Sakuma Farms we have tried to ask for better wages, housing, and treatment from the Sakuma family.

After years of trying to change the conditions we felt it was necessary to organize into the Union that we are today to make a lasting impact.

Nobody has paid attention to the farm workers at Sakuma Berry Farms until now. This season, we formed Familias Unidas por la Justicia and presented to the world the reality of working for Sakuma Bros. Farms.

Rather than acknowledging our reality the Sakuma family is not willing to sit down with us.  They know what they’re doing is wrong and shameful. Instead, they engaged a Public Relations firm to spread disinformation about us and our self-organizing. They don’t want the local community to find out that they have systematically stolen our wages, particularly our children’s wages, and blamed it on a “glitch.”

What do you call a “glitch” that has been going on for years?  Three days ago when we checked several pay stubs we found the same “miscalculations” of our wages — not just the young people but adults as well.  These “miscalculations” or “glitches” have been happening for years.

Every year counts for us. Berry picking like this takes our youth away.  The pressure is heavy to keep up with piece rate production standards, so that we have to pick 2 boxes of acceptable blueberries in an hour, in order to get paid $12/hour. If we don’t pick fast enough, we get disciplinary action, “warnings,” that can end us up getting fired. This creates a stress that takes a tremendous toll on our bodies and minds.

As one of our members says, “I’m 25 years old, but my body feels much older… How will I take care of my children when they are older, and my body is broken down? When my body’s all used up, they’ll dispose of me (fire me or deport me). I’ve been coming here to pick berries since I was 14.  I’m 25 now. This company has taken my youth, and it will take my children’s youth.”

We’re not just here for the stoop labor, we are part of the community.

We deserve to live long and healthy lives, too, so we can see our children and grandchildren grow up healthy.

Sakuma Bros. Farms have also deceived the H2-A workers. They were promised $12 an hour to pick apples. Instead they are required to pick berries with piece-rate production standards equivalent to $12/hr or threatened of being fired or sent home to Mexico. They are isolated under guard, and prohibited from talking to the committee and any other workers. And they are afraid.

The Sakuma family would not live even for a day in their own labor camps.  They say they are concerned about our health and safety but they still make us work when we’re sick, and the cabins are not fit for our families, the gas stoves leak gas, the tin roofs leak rain, there is no heat in cold rainy weather and no cool air in the hot summer days.

They sent private security guards into our housing area to watch us at home and at work, in order to break our union. The press releases from Sakuma Bros. say we are violent and the guards are there to protect us, protect us from whom? But a Skagit County judge told Sakuma the guards could not be there, and they had to take them out, because the guards were unlawful interference with out right to act together as a union.

Sakuma Bros. are also trying to shift the argument from wage theft and poor treatment of workers to  first claiming that there was no labor dispute;

boycott-sakumaThat there was a cultural and language misunderstanding and now the criticism and harassment of our elected leader, Ramon Torres. We elected Ramon Torres to lead our struggle because we trust him. When Ryan Sakuma fired him we all walked out on strike and we are no longer afraid.

Although a Skagit County prosecutor obtained a no contact order preventing Ramon from contacting his wife, Deeana, a Skagit County Judge lifted the restraining order at Deeana’s request. Ramon, Deanna and their daughter have moved out of the Sakuma housing, but Ryan Sakuma continues to pursue and harass their family, attempting to get them evicted from their present home with the malicious lies about Ramon.  Sakuma Bros. Farms disinformation trivializes domestic violence and insults domestic violence survivors. At heart, there lies are an attempt to destroy Ramon’s personal life because he is our leader and are an attempt to distract the public from the real issues of wage theft and poor treatment of workers.

Facing the fact that the judge told them to remove the security guards, our criticism of substandard housing, wage theft, and discrimination, Sakuma Bros. still is questioning why we would ever want to organize ourselves into a union. Worse they are questioning our intelligence and ability to organize ourselves. Our families deserve a fair and legal contract to protect ourselves from the continued bullying of our employer.

Sakuma management has already spent thousands of dollars by contracting professional anti-worker groups like TransWorld Security, Precision Public Relations, and strike-breaking consultants from California like Raul Calvo.  Why won’t they sit down and in good faith negotiate with the workers that have helped build their family farm into the agri-corporation business that is so successful? If they were honorable to the workers and to the local community, they would come back to sit down and face us across a table and work with us to end this labor dispute.

If they were honorable, and realized they should be embarrassed by how badly they are treating us, they would negotiate with us in good faith. They tell the public that they are paying a fair wage, $12 per hour, and providing us with good working conditions just like is required by the contract they have covering the wages and working conditions of the guest workers.  If that is true, why won’t they put that in writing in a contract with us?  That is all we are asking; an enforceable contract that guarantees what they say they are already doing.

We are engaged in a labor dispute with Sakuma Berry Farms about fair wages, job security, respect at work and recognition of our Union so we can have healthy families and a strong farm worker community. All we are asking is to work with them to show the world that working conditions for farm workers can be improved.

Si Se Puede!

For more information about Familias Unidas por la Justicia, click here or visit

Here is some coverage of the dispute from The Stranger:

► In The Stranger — Farmworkers call for berry boycott — Farm workers are trying to build on the momentum of a court victory with intensified calls on the public to boycott Sakuma Brothers Farms berries. Delegations of workers, including Ramon Torres, picketed at Seattle-area stores selling the berries. At Uwajimaya, produce managers agreed to temporarily pull them, but the store director tells me he wants more information before making a final decision. Lois Ko, who owns a franchise Häagen-Dazs store in the U-District, joined the boycott almost immediately. “We are not going to be serving strawberry ice cream, to support the pickers who are being mistreated at the farm,” she told me, adding that she plans to visit the farmworkers’ labor camp herself to see the conditions.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!