Workers call for Sakuma Brothers boycott after talks fail
By Steve Brown
BURLINGTON, Wash. -- Two weeks of negotiations have attempted to work out differences between Sakuma Brothers Farms and a group of workers, but "talks are off at this point," Sakuma spokesman John Segale said Aug. 20.
On the same day, the farmworkers group Familias Unidas por la Justicia began organizing a consumer boycott. Leaders of the group issued a statement that its 246 members had reached the "difficult decision ... after the company broke its verbal agreement to conduct a collaborative picking test that determines the price per pound based on a minimum wage of $12 per hour."
At issue is the piece rate for blueberry pickers, which was to be determined by a test pick conducted by field testers and supervisors. The workers' committee said farm executive Ryan Sakuma refused to pay the 48 cents a pound that was determined by the test pick, instead saying he would pay only 40 cents pound.
"For the farmworkers 8 cents is the difference between a living wage that they had negotiated and the sub-poverty wages that caused them to stop work," Committee President Ramon Torres said. "This is why we are going to boycott, because we had made an agreement, and they did not honor that agreement."
The committee has called for a contract that recognizes the worker committee and includes fair wages, better treatment, a grievance process, seniority and better living conditions. The workers have already gone on strike twice this summer.
The company dismissed the boycott.
"A boycott would end up hurting the workers the most," Segale said.
He would not comment on the workers' demands or on the workers' reported request that the U.S. Department of Labor revoke the Sakumas' H-2A certification.
The farm owners requested foreign guestworkers under the federal H-2A program when it determined it needed more workers to bring in the harvest. But a worker advocacy group, Community to Community Development, has asserted there is no labor shortage and that foreign workers are being brought in to displace the existing workers.
Berry harvest has continued throughout the dispute, as H-2A arrivals and other workers have continued to pick, Segale said.