Sakuma farmworkers walk out again over production mandate

The following is from Familias Unidas por la Justicia:

MOUNT VERNON (July 24, 2015) — More than 90 farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers berry farm walked out of the organic blueberry field Thursday morning over unattainable production standards. After an hour of negotiations with supervisors and Driscoll’s employee Ryan Sakuma failed to bring down the production standard to an attainable level, the union members walked out of the fields in protest.

They went home for the day and planned to return Friday at 5:30 a.m. to hold a picket line and encourage the workers picking blackberries to join the work stoppage to negotiate fair production standards.

This is the third time this summer that workers at Sakuma have stopped work to try to negotiate fair production standards. The vast majority of these workers are members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice), a local independent farmworker union that formed at out of a series of strikes at Sakuma during the 2013 season over similar issues. The union has been calling for a boycott of Sakuma and Driscoll’s, Sakuma’s main distributor, products until Sakuma management negotiates a union contract since August of 2013.

This year, under the leadership of a new CEO Danny Weeden, Sakuma Brothers berry farm has been telling the public that their new pay scale is the best in the state and allows workers to earn upwards of $30 an hour. Workers have been angry that every day when they enter the field they don’t know what they are going to earn or at what rate they will be paid and the company keeps changing the rate to push the workers to maximize production standards at the expense of their health.

Most of the professional berry pickers struggle to make the minimum poundage that earns them $10 an hour. They refute Sakuma’s claim that the majority of the workforce is earning more than $20 an hour. Many union members have reported harassment from supervisors when they can’t keep up, and explain that they experience extreme fatigue especially in the high heat.

Recently many workers have left Sakuma and found work elsewhere because conditions and pay have been so bad, but many others are choosing to stay and are determined to fight until they win a union contract.

“We can’t just leave because what Sakuma is doing to the people isn’t right, and nobody should be treated like that,” said Ramon Torres, the union’s elected president. “The only way we can ensure change is with a union contract.”

Because Sakuma has refused to respond to work stoppages with any concessions, the union is calling on supporters to intensify the boycott of the Sakuma and Driscoll’s label. They want to settle this dispute with a legally binding contract that ensures they get paid $15 an hour, have fair treatment and a medical plan, and they believe that Driscoll’s, the largest berry distributor in the world, has the power to bring Sakuma to the negotiating table.

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