RARELY IS IT IN YOUR POWER TO RIGHT A GREAT WRONG, TODAY IT IS!
Rarely is it within the consumer’s power to right a great wrong, but today Familias Unidas por la Justicia (United Families for Justice) is making that possible. Calling for a boycott of products that you help produce—and earn a living from—is not something that is done lightly. The leadership of Familias Unidas por la Justicia made sure to get permission from 219+ farmworkers a day before authorizing a boycott against poor wages and mistreatment and for a legally binding labor contract. To understand why migrant berry pickers at Sakuma Brothers Farms have been forced to call for a boycott of the berry products made from the strawberries, blueberries and blackberries they tend and harvest. You must know the whole story. Only then will you know why these farm workers are risking their livelihoods and are counting on your support.
A DECADE OF STRUGGLE
Many of the leadership and membership of Familias Unidas por la Justicia have worked for Sakuma Brothers Farms for over a decade, some families contributing three generations of labor to Sakuma Brothers farm. Almost every year, there has been a labor dispute, some end in firing and evictions, while others have been full on work stoppages with only one in 2004, resulting in minor temporary concessions. Farmworkers say that they are struggling for the future of their families and for justice.
A HISTORIC MOMENT AGAINST GREAT ODDS
Farmworkers waged six strikes during the 2013 berry harvest season because they had decided that enough is enough. In this struggle farmworkers were able to secure a temporary wage increase to $12 per hour, new bedding and mattresses that were not infested with bed bugs, the reinstatement of Federico Lopez, the removal of a hostile supervisor, $6000 in back pay for 30 farmworker youth, a temporary change in the way piece rates were determined, a signed agreement against retaliation, and a restraining order against security guards in the labor camps. Even so, as farmworkers fight for a valid labor contract, they continue to be subject to the whims of Sakuma anti-union consultants.
THE TWO FACES OF MANAGEMENT
This labor dispute has lasted over 14 months and farm workers have not yet been able to secure a contract that guarantees fair wages nor better treatment from their employer. Meanwhile management has spent a fortune on high priced lawyers and arbitrators, labor consultants, public relations consultants, and a private security force in order to hold out to the end of the harvest seasons and to figure out their strategy to displace the over 440 workers that Familias Unidas por la Justicia has come to represent.
In March 2014, the corporation announced that they planned to apply for H-2A guest workers and planned to discontinue a summer youth farm labor program. A considerable portion of the Familias Unidas por la Justicia farm workers who have worked for several years and who went on strike in 2013 are between the age of 12 and 21. Shortly after, Familias Unidas por la Justicia secured a restraining order against the firm, recognizing the farmworkers as a union engaged in concerted activities that were protected by state law. The berry firm also chose to settle a wage and hour lawsuit with Familias Unidas por la Justicia farm workers for a record $850,000 instead of admitting guilt for systematic wage theft. Even with these unprecedented legal wins, Sakuma has held out from returning to the negotiation table.
The corporation chooses, instead, to spend their money on negative smear campaigns against our leadership, make up “fact” sheets, and go on vacations instead of negotiating with the committee. It has become clear that when it comes to workers rights, fair wages and job security, Sakuma Brothers Farms is not interested in doing the right thing. Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. is a 6.4 million dollar a year earning vertically integrated corporation that has multiple layers of management and is but one of several enterprises owned by the Sakuma Family that earns upwards of 20 million dollars a year. The corporation has the ability to control their product from seed to market, making the firm more profitable than its local competitors who sell their berries to Sakuma processing plants. It is no longer a family farm, it is a powerful corporate player in the global economy.
FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS
Farmworkers are excluded from federal labor laws that guarantees workers the right to form unions. In Washington, agricultural labor is excluded from labor laws governing overtime. Morally, however, Sakuma Brothers Farms must allow the workers to exercise their fundamental human rights to be free from discrimination based on indigenous identity, gender, and to freely associate and be represented collectively as Familias Unidas por la Justicia. They had signed two agreements that the company has now reneged upon.
SECOND CLASS CITIZENS
The majority of the migrant farmworkers live in overcrowded, poorly ventilated, poorly equipped and un-weatherized shacks in company owned labor camps. The Sakuma family, having been interned in a labor camp during World War II, has internalized their own oppression and perpetrated the same kind of violence against another group of human beings. The result of this segregation, and poor living conditions is poor health of many of the children. The result of sub-poverty level wages is a second class citizenship that creates the conditions under which farmworkers are treated inhumanely by their supervisors on a regular basis. The larger rural community either fears, ignores or patronizes them. After being part of the local economy for more than a decade, farmworkers are tired of being second class citizens.