Four years of walkouts and labor organizing have paid off for workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Skagit Valley. The workers are planning a celebration Tuesday afternoon in Mt. Vernon in recognition of signing their first union contract, something that’s pretty rare in the agriculture industry.
Farm workers don’t have the same rights to organize as most other workers do because they’ve been excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, the federal law governing the formation of labor unions, ever since it passed in 1935. Another factor that makes it difficult for them to organize is that they’re often employed seasonally.
But the berry pickers at Sakuma Brothers staged a series of work stoppages over the past few years, protesting what they said was unfair compensation. Last fall they voted to join a union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. The farm agreed to bargain and last month they reached a contract.
“This sends a signal to all workers out there that even when you’re the least remembered of workers at times, if you have a righteous cause, stick to it and you can win,” said Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council. “Organizing in agriculture is always difficult, but these workers have shown just a tenacity that shows you what was in their hearts.”
The union said on its web site that the average wage will be at least $15 an hour and no one will receive less than $12. A spokesman for Sakuma Brothers wouldn’t confirm those numbers, but he sent a statement saying the agreement creates a “mutually beneficial partnership that will be successful for years to come.”
The farm workers and other labor groups had staged a boycott of Driscoll’s berries because Sakuma is a supplier to the company. Johnson said that now, in the wake of the union contract, he’s urging people to buy Driscoll’s berries to show support for the farm.