By JEFF JOHNSON
(Sept. 13, 2016) — At 4:30 yesterday afternoon the nervous anticipation was so thick you could cut it with a knife, as 150 workers and community members waited in the parking lot of the United Steelworkers Local 12-591 in Mount Vernon for the results of the historic union vote by members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia.
An agreement had been struck between the union and Sakuma Brothers Farms to hold a union recognition election on Sept. 12 between noon and 5:30 p.m. at one of Sakuma’s properties on Benson Road in Bow, Wash.
After four years of organizing, winning the hearts and minds of the labor movement and the community, and a boycott of Sakuma, Driscoll and Haagen Dazs, Familias Unidas can now begin bargaining a contract with Sakuma Brothers. Si Se Puede!
But of course there was drama until the end. When a small delegation from the union showed up at the polling place to observe the vote count, the operations manager for Sakuma Brothers turned red in the face and refused to allow the vote count to take place as long as President Ramon Torres was on the property.
The solution: we adjourned to the parking lot of Allen Elementary School, home of the Vikings. The vote count was conducted by Richard Ahearn, former Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board, on the tailgate of State Sen John McCoy’s truck. The irony of where the votes were tallied was hard to miss — the majority of students at the elementary school are Latino/Hispanic, Senator McCoy has been a fierce advocate for these workers, and this victory is as much a public victory as a union victory.
During the count, CEO of Sakuma Brothers Farms, Danny Wheeden, made an appearance. He didn’t need to show up. I thought that this was a class act. While reading his biography I found this quote about him, “Know your values and don’t compromise them, act courageously and stand firm for the things that matter, and in adversity keep fighting — persevere — be faithful and don’t quit.”
Well, this same quote aptly applies to Familias Unidas.
The next stage of the process is negotiating a contract. The memorandum of agreement negotiated by labor attorney Kathy Barnard has a date certain for the conclusion of bargaining after which if an agreement isn’t reached, the offers will be submitted to arbitration — baseball style — with the arbiter choosing one proposal to prevail. Jason Holland, labor attorney with Washington Public Employees Association/UFCW 365, will help with the negotiations.
While we are still a ways off from a contract, it is time to celebrate the victory to date and to recognize that justice prevailed yesterday. And we will continue the struggle so that justice prevails tomorrow.
Si Se Puede!
Jeff 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 600 local unions and approximately 450,000 rank-and-file union members.
ALSO at The Stand — Union election set at Sakuma; boycott of Driscoll’s berries ends (Sept. 6, 2016)