Sakuma berry pickers walk over low pay, get a raise

UPDATE from Skagit Valley Herald (June 11, 2016) — Sakuma Bros. Farms gives farmworkers rate increase — Sakuma Bros. Farms increased farmworkers’ per-pound rates for strawberries after Thursday’s walkout, but some workers are calling for more. Workers are now earning 28 cents per pound — a 4-cent raise. But according to a news release from Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a labor group representing the workers, a group of workers is continuing the walkout, asking for another 4-cent increase and the opportunity to negotiate a union contract.

BURLINGTON (June 10, 2016) — About 180 farmworkers staged a walkout from Sakuma Brothers Berry Farm on Thursday to protest wages and working conditions. The main demand of the union Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice) is an 11-cent increase for each pound of strawberries workers pick.

The union’s communications director, Maru Mora, says workers have staged six walkouts over the past three years.

“There has been a long struggle right now with Sakuma to just sit down at the negotiation table,” says Mora. “And the fact that they haven’t, that’s why farmworkers decided to do walkouts, starting in July of 2013.”

The union is also asking for better working conditions and a minimum wage of $15 an hour for workers. In a statement to the website Fresh Fruit Portal, Sakuma Brothers CEO Danny Weeden denies allegations of poor conditions or retaliation against workers for their union activity.

Sakuma Brothers’ main distributor is Driscoll’s Berries, the largest berry distributor in the world. The workers’ union has been calling for a boycott of Driscoll’s products until the company puts pressure on Sakuma to negotiate.

Mora says it’s a big deal that farmworkers are willing to put their livelihoods on the line to protest their working conditions.

“Farmworkers are the people with less protections in labor conditions, and if they have decided to walk out and use the little money they earn per day,” she says. “I think it tells you the terrible conditions that they’re facing.”

The union holds a meeting today to decide how to move forward with the current walkout. It’s already planning a march in Burlington on July 11 to mark the 4-year anniversary of the first walkout on Sakuma Brothers’ farm.

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