(photo: Ramon Torres, the elected President of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, talks to striking farmworkers gathered at the Sakuma Brothers hiring office this morning, August 11, 2014)

BREAKING NEWS — PLEASE REBLOG

Bow, WA – August 11, 2014 – Over 150 Sakuma Bros Farms blueberry pickers walked off the fields today in Burlington, WA and assembled a picket line at the farm’s field office on Benson Road to protest the possible firing of a fellow worker, an earlier lunch break, onerous piece-rates and a new disciplinary scheme that was imposed by the company.

Cornelio Ramirez, a Familias Unidas por la Justicia negotiation committee member has been the target of an internal campaign by the company to seek out and discipline farm workers who are sympathetic to the independent farm worker union with a previously un-enforced company hand-book that establishes a warning based discipline system. Cornelio received two warnings for talking back to company representatives (a labor contractor and an anti-[labor] consultant), one warning for using his cell phone to record a conversation in Spanish, his second language, and another for “picking too slow”.

Farm workers have been given arbitrary warnings for activity that is not related to production such as for talking back, using cell phones, and placing their buckets on the ground. Carmen Juarez Ventura, a seasoned picker featured on the cover of Seth Holme’s book, “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies” said she received a warning for placing her bucket on the ground, when the foremans wife continuously did the same activity and was never cited. She believed the reason she got the warning was that she was a proud member of Familias Unidas por la Justicia and the manager’s wife was sympathetic to the corporation.

Cornelio Ramirez is a hard worker, because of Sakuma’s executive decision not to harvest portions of the available crops instead of hiring him and members of his union before the company was sued for contempt of a court order, Ramirez supplemented his earnings by taking on a nightshift at a local seafood processing plant.

After the being hired by the company to avoid prosecution, Ramirez continued his night-shift and was subjected to closed door, one-on-one meetings with his foreman who tried to convince him that being a member of Familias Unidas por la Justicia was not in his best interest.

Mario Vargas, an anti-union consultant, who is also from California has been holding mandatory 30 minute captive-audience meetings with berry pickers working at Sakuma Bros Farms since the previous season.

According to the IAM,

In captive-audience meetings, workers are forced to sit through one-sided, anti-union presentations during company time. Workers can be fired for refusing to attend, and workers who support the union can be denied access to the meeting. Although it is legal for employers to use their employees’ work time in this manner, no such venue is provided for workers to make their case in favor of union representation. According to the Bronfenbrenner survey, 92 percent of employers force employees to attend an average of 11 mandatory anti-union presentations during union representation campaigns.(http://www.goiam.org/publications/Legislative_Issues/TheFreedomtoFormAUnion/Employers_Interfere_with_Workers.pdf)

As you can see, Cornelio Ramirez, was clearly given warnings for standing up for his right to belong to a farm worker union. It begs the question of whether this is the case for many of the other farm workers who have currently walked out because of similar citations are right in their assumption that this too is a form of retaliation by Sakuma Bros. Farms.

During the captive-audience meeting in the berry fields, Cornelio stood up for his union, he corrected the false information that the anti-union Consultant was giving, telling Vargas that he did not have the right to tell people not to join the union and that he was wrong to give false information about Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

Other farm workers in that meeting brought up the onerous piece-rates to the consultant and labor contractor, Vargas told the farm workers that the piece-rates were up to the company, and there was nothing he could do about it. Meanwhile, skilled pickers like Cornelio Ramirez are being cited for not “picking fast enough” to match the onerous piece rates.

Since the walkout this morning at 8:00am, Cornelio Ramirez has been in the farm’s hiring office with four other workers, trying to negotiate their collective reinstatement, and for the removal of the unfair warnings given to all of the workers.

On the outside, Sakuma Bros Farms is trying to corral the workers who have assembled a picket line in the parking lot of the hiring office on Benson Road with tractors, which farm executives intended to use as a wedge between union leadership (Ramon Torres) who is on public property, and the rest of the farm workers.

Led by Carmen Ventura Juarez, picketing farm workers are engaged in a direct action inside of Sakuma hiring office parking lot, using their bodies to block the tractors from completely closing off the communication between union leadership and the rank and file workers.

Farm workers are calling their supporters to action, to come to the Sakuma Brothers Farms Benson Road hiring office to support farm workers inside the hiring office, in the parking lot and those who have not yet been rehired.

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[Sakuma tells] the public that they are paying a fair wage. $12 per hour, and provide us with good working conditions just like is required by the contract they have covering the wages and working conditions of the guest workers.

If that is true, why won’t they put that in writing in a contract with us?

That is all we are asking; an enforceable contract that guarantees what they say they are already doing.

We are engaged in a labor dispute with Sakuma Berry Farms about fair wages, job security, respect at work and recognition of our Union so we can have healthy families and a strong farm worker community.

All we are asking is to work with them to show the world that working conditions for farm workers can be improved.

Si Se Puede!

Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, “Statement to the Community,” October 2013

The Sakuma family would not live even for a day in their own labor camps.

They say they are concerned about our health and safety but they still make us work when we’re sick, and the cabins are not fit for our families, the gas stoves leak gas, the tin roofs leak rain, there is no heat in cold rainy weather and no cool air in the hot summer days.

They sent private security guards into our housing area to watch us at home and at work, in order to break our union.

… But a Skagit county judge told Sakuma the guards could not be there, and they had to take them out, because the guards were unlawful interference with out right to act together as a union.

As one of our members says,

“I’m 25 yrs old, but my body feels much older…how will I take care of my children when they are older, and my body is broken down.When my body’s all used up, they’ll dispose of me (fire me or deport me). I’ve been coming here to pick berries since I was 14. I’m 25 now. This company has taken my youth, and it will take my children’s youth.”

We’re not just here for the stoop labor, we are part of the community.

We deserve to live long and healthy lives too, so we can see our children and grandchildren grow up healthy.

This season [2013], we formed Familias Unidas por la Justicia and presented to the world the reality of working for Sakuma Bros. Farms.

Rather than acknowledging our reality the Sakuma family is not willing to sit down with us. They know what they’re doing is wrong and shameful.

Instead, they engaged a Public Relations firm to spread disinformation about us and our self-organizing.

They don’t want the local community to find out that they have systematically stolen our wages, particularly our children’s wages, and blamed it on a “glitch”.

What do you call a “glitch” that has been going on for years? 3 days ago when we checked several pay stubs we found the same “miscalculations” of our wages – not just the young people but adults as well.

These “miscalculations” or “glitches” have been happening for years.

Every year counts for us – Berry picking like this takes our youth away.

"You see the farmland and the owners, but not the workers. We have a different reality that is silenced and invisible.

We are Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

We are 300+ predominantly Triqui and Mixteco people; Spanish is our second or third language.

We travel with our families from California to pick berries throughout the West Coast.

Many of us have been coming to Skagit County to pick Strawberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries for Sakuma Bros. Farms for years.

Every year that we have been coming to Sakuma Farms we have tried to ask for better wages, housing, and treatment from the Sakuma Family.

After years of trying to change the conditions we felt it was necessary to organize into the Union that we are today to make a lasting impact.

Nobody has paid attention to the farm workers at Sakuma Berry Farms until now.”

Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, Statement to the Community (October 2013).

The struggle for a union contract with Sakuma is Familias Unidas Por La Justicia’s. The work we do as Students for Farmworker Justice in solidarity with Familias Unidas is to promote the consumer boycott of Sakuma products and Haagen Dazs (Haagen Dazs buys many of their berries from Sakuma). One of the ways we do this by reaching out to stores, informing the management of the boycott, and asking them to pull the berries. If the store does not pull the berries, we organize awareness-raising pickets aimed to inform the public of the boycott and to ask them not to purchase the products covered under the boycott.