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Sakuma farmworkers strike after leader fired

Capital Press

Workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms went on strike Sept. 12 in response to the firing of their council's president. A farm spokesman said the firing came after the leader was arrested and taken into custody. A spokeswoman for the workers said they would stay out on strike until the farm owners return to the negotiating table.

BURLINGTON, Wash. — Workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms went on strike Sept. 12 after the leader of their labor committee was fired.

The company fired Ramon Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, because of  concerns over other workers’ safety, farm spokesman John Segale said.

Skagit County sheriff officers arrested Torres on Aug. 30, charging him with fourth-degree assault after his wife told officers he had pushed her and hit her.

“(Torres) had an arrest record and a no-contact order,” Segale said. “We removed him from the farm and the camp because we have a responsibility to protect the workers and their families.”

Farmworker advocate Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, said about 300 workers went on strike because they were upset with farm president Ryan Sakuma for firing Torres.

“He’s dealing with that in the court. His personal business is his personal business,” she said. “Other supervisors have had legal problems as well, and they weren’t fired.”

The firing isn’t the only source of worker unrest. The farm owners have changed nothing in response to workers’ demands, Guillen said, and the workers will stay out until the owners return to the negotiating table.

“There’s a lot of unhappiness,” she said. “They’re demanding contracts and better wages, and they demand no retaliation or reprisals for those demands. ... They will get fair treatment only through a contract.”

At least eight additional workers were laid off Sept. 12, in part because the farm owners are implementing new quality control and production control methods, she said.

Despite the two walkouts in late July, work has been steady in August and September and harvest “has been pretty consistent,” Segale said. Right now the farm is harvesting blackberries and blueberries.

“We’ve started to head towards winding it up,” he said. “The H-2A workers are working well, and the domestic workers seem to agree with the arrangement.”



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