The Stand

Updates on Casa Latina, SAGE, Sakuma Bros., wage theft

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By JEFF JOHNSON


(Sept. 15, 2014) — From the field last week:

Casa Latina

On Saturday night, Casa Latina had their 20th anniversary dinner at the Washington State Convention Center. Unlike in past years where the event was dominated by numerous auctions, this year was devoted to telling Casa Latina’s story.

casa-latina-20thThe theme for the event was “En Camino” or on the road. Casa and other day labor centers have been on the road to social justice by empowering the immigrant community through employment, leadership development and organizing for justice.

Executive Director Hilary Stern traced Casa’s path from the days down on Western Avenue to their new home campus at 17th and Jackson. She said, “While we haven’t arrived yet, we are on our way.”

Casa Latina workers have set their wages at $16 an hour, which is the highest minimum wage in the country for day laborers.

Pablo Alvarado, Director on the National Day Labor Organizing Network, was the keynote speaker. He spoke passionately about what we need to do “when our sense of fear and uncertainty becomes greater than our sense of humanity” and that is to “stand shoulder to shoulder with Casa Latina workers and all workers fighting for justice.”

Pablo brought his band, Los Jornaleros del Norte, part of the day laborers’ organizing program, and had a good portion of the audience dancing in the aisles.

The final speaker was Alicia Paredes, the owner of Alicia’s Cleaning Services LLC. Alicia became a member of Casa in 1997 when she arrived from Mexico, learned English through Casa’s ESL, helped form the women’s leadership group and learned how to set up her business through the help of Casa. She spoke about how Casa is family and how it changed her life.

SAGE

Last Tuesday night, Puget Sound SAGE had their 2nd annual union leadership dinner at the Executive Inn in Seattle. SAGE’s mission is to help build sustainable communities where all families can thrive: “We believe that, regardless of race or status, people should have access to good jobs and dignity at work, as well as a clean environment and safe, affordable housing.”

This year’s Union Leader of the Year Award was presented to Dave Schmitz, President of UFCW Local 21.

Michael Woo, Executive Director of Got Green, presented the award to Dave and highlighted some the vision that Dave and a handful of others had in creating SAGE, as well as Dave’s vision of consolidating grocery bargaining to bring greater power to rank-and-file workers.

Dave spoke eloquently about the need for a labor movement that recognizes that community needs and labor needs are the same and that we must work together if we are to win social and economic justice. He used the Dearborn Coalition as an example of how labor and community stuck together when corporate interests did their best to try and separate labor from the community. The coalition remained strong as does the work of Puget Sound SAGE.

Boycott Sakuma Berries

boycott-sakuma-seattle-rallyOn Wednesday evening, an informational picket went up in front of the QFC on Broadway and Pine in Seattle that was organized by the mobilization committee of the MLK Central Labor Council and attended by members of the Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, Seattle Labor Chorus, Professional and Technical Employees, and many others. The leaflets called on people to boycott Sakuma Brothers berries and Driscoll’s berries, a major buyer/packer of Sakuma berries, and strawberry Haagen Das, which uses Sakuma berries until a successful contract is signed between the union representing the farm workers and Sakuma Brothers.

During the summer of 2013 a new union was formed — Familias Unidos por la Justicia (Families United for Justice). They formed to stop the systemic wage theft, supervisor abuse, and substandard farm worker housing. At first the company bargained with the workers but then stopped and began discriminating against workers who had joined the union. At the start of this season Sakuma Brothers applied for H2A guest workers and began a process of discriminating against hiring workers who had joined the union and refused to house workers who had families. A judge found these actions to be discriminatory and ordered Sakuma Brothers to rehire members of Familias Unidos and to provide them with housing. Despite this court order the struggle goes on.

The boycott continues to pick up speed and will continue until a fair contract with Familias Unidos is signed. Does Chateau Ste. Michelle sound familiar to anyone?

Labor Law Enforcement

Over the summer a group of labor and community advocates have been working with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s office to develop an office of labor law enforcement that will oversee the wage theft, paid safe and sick leave, and new minimum wage law about to go into effect next year.

On Friday an agreement was reached to create a cabinet level office that will report to the Mayor, in the Office of Civil Rights. This new Office of Labor Standards will have the authority to conduct directed investigations and company-wide audits and will have the ability to contract with community groups to make enforcing these labor laws a reality. This is a great first step towards ensuring that all workers receive the wages for which they worked for.

This is a great first step to ending wage theft!


johnson-jeff-13Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.

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