Posts Tagged ‘Sakuma Brothers Farm’

Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Fired by Sakuma, 300 pickers walk out

September 12, 2013


Over 300 pickers rally after walking off the fields. Photo by Maru Mora.

Burlington, WA (September 12, 2013): This past week, Familias Unidas por la Justicia farmworkers held two separate strikes at Sakuma Bros. Farm, one with 150 blueberry pickers and another with 200 blackberry pickers. Both strikes gained wage increases of $1.00 and $0.75 respectively.

On Thursday September 12, 2013, committee member Filemon Piñeda reported that Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Ramon Torres was summarily fired for his role in the strikes. Farmworkers contend that Torres was fired for refusing to negotiate proposed minimum productivity requirements that grower Ryan Sakuma sought to implement as a condition of the wage increase. Torres saw this as a productivity “speed up” that not all pickers would be able to meet, putting at risk their ability to work.

Piñeda reported that he was there when the Skagit County Sheriff arrived to escort Torres to meet with the Sakumas and to remove him from the property. Piñeda said, “this is why they fired him, they [Sakuma executives] didn’t want to see him in the fields.”


Farm Workers Rally at Sakuma Field Office. Photo by Maru Mora.


Maru Mora reported that over 300 farmworkers rallied today, they had walked off the fields when they heard that Ramon Torres was fired and evicted. At noon, these farmworkers were rallying at the Sakuma business offices demanding Torres’ reinstatement.

Even with the gravity of the situation, the farmworkers were in good spirits. As they rallied, the committee members asked, “¿Nadie va trabajar?/is everyone going to stop work until this matter is resolved?” to which the crowd unanimously answered “Si!/ Yes!” as they cheered each other on for encouragement.

In Torres absence, the ability of the eleven member negotiation’s committee to lead has become obvious. The farmworkers understand that this theater by the corporation has no grounds and is little more than a scare tactic, of which the farmworkers are sick and tired of.


Farmworkers Rally. Photo by Maru Mora.


This farmworker struggle has many similarities with early efforts in California to fight for farmworker dignity. For example Cesar Chavez’s first attempt to organize farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley was met with similar repression and collaboration between growers and law enforcement:

“In September 1965 the NFWA launched their first strike in an effort to unionize grape workers. The picket was promptly declared illegal (Matthiessen 1969), convincing the union of the near impossibility of relying on the strike as a viable tactic. The collusion between growers and law enforcement, and the large supply of unemployed workers, compelled the NFWA to consider the boycott. Soon after, the AWOC and NFWA merged to create the United Farm Workers’ Organizing Committee (UFWOC). (Pulido, 1996, 71)

Federal Labor Law prohibits certain types of strikes that it considers to be unlawful strikes. California growers used an incorrect interpretation of this to try to limit the ability of farmworkers to strike. However, as Laura Pulido points out in regards to the aftermath of this attempt to bust the union, “The situation was somewhat ironic. If workers were not protected under the law, neither were they subject to its limitations. This situation allowed the UFWOC to conduct the first successful boycott, which was instrumental in bringing growers to the table” (70).

Familias Unidas por la Justicia migrant berry pickers are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) of 1935 nor the amendments in 1947 (Taft-Hartley Act) because they are agricultural workers. CATA a farmworker organization in New Jersey argues,

Section 2 of the act plainly states:

  • (3) The term “employee” shall include any employee, and shall not be limited to the employees of a particular employer, unless the Act [this subchapter] explicitly states otherwise, and shall include any individual whose work has ceased as a consequence of, or in connection with, any current labor dispute or because of any unfair labor practice, and who has not obtained any other regular and substantially equivalent employment, but shall not include any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or any individual having the status of an independent contractor, or any individual employed as a supervisor, or any individual employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act [45 § 151 et seq.], as amended from time to time, or by any other person who is not an employer as herein defined. (CATA Policy Manual, 3)

  • Because agricultural workers are exempt from these protections, they are also not subject to their limitations that govern strikes and boycotts. Sadly, this lack of recognition also excludes agricultural workers from basic worker rights like overtime pay, and other benefits most have come to take for granted including “whistle blower” protections making workers susceptible to reprisals by their employer that are unheard of outside of agriculture and domestic work.

    The solution that the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee struggled for and won in California was the passage of a California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 that extended many of those rights denied to agricultural workers by federal law via local state legislation.


    Historian Matt Garcia in his book From the Jaws of Victory (2012) argues that the UFWOC creatively changed the way boycotts were used in three fundamental ways, “First, Chavez expanded the use of the boycott by appealing to consumers to participate in the pursuit of social justice…Second, although initially Chavez and a handful of union leaders started the boycott to occupy volunteers’ time between harvests, he and union leaders eventually came to regard the boycott with at least as much respect as they did strikes and marches….Third, the United Farm Workers pursued a strategy not available to most labor unions: the secondary boycott.”

    Garcia contends that within these three innovations, that the road to victory for the UFWOC was forged. He argues convincingly that by shifting the goal of the farm workers from a specific labor dispute and into a social movement for farm worker dignity and social justice the UFWOC was able to rally sufficient support from U.S. Civil Society to bring the growers to the negotiation table. Garcia also notes that the “by any means necessary” approach to the boycott by volunteer cultural workers and organizers, allowed for a tremendous creativity on behalf of the campaigns, the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF -Originally Rebel Chicano Art Front) for example produced a tremendous amount of art for the boycott campaigns.


    Don’t Eat Grapes. Designed for the United Farm Workers.

    This creativity was not limited to art, which varied depending on the norms of the region. In Los Angeles, great murals were created, in the bay area poster art was pioneered for the boycott and in Seattle, the human billboard was introduced as a boycott tactic.

    UFW Solidarity_ Queen Anne Safeway_ 1969 WSFT Convention_ ph

    UFW Solidarity, Queen Anne Safeway, 1969 WSFT Convention. Photo by Ross Rieder.

    According to Garcia, one of the most crucial innovations that was made possible precisely because of the exemption of farmworkers from the amendments made by Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 had to do with the ability to hold “secondary boycotts”, “In 1947 the Taft-Hartley Labor Act amended the National Labor Relations Act to restrict labor unions from running campaigns against companies that were not abusing workers but were selling products of companies that were. In 1959, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act strengthened the restriction against this practice, which was known as a secondary boycott.” (ibid)

    This is why it is possible for Familias Unidas por la Justicia to call for a boycott Sakuma Bros. Farm Berries and its major distributors, Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream, Driscoll’s Fresh Market Berries, and Yoplait yogurts at multiple grocers.


    You have a unique opportunity to support farmworker families AND the work of Community to Community! Join or organize a boycott picket line in your own community. You can keep up to date on the Boycott at There you will find the contact numbers and addresses where you can call Sakuma Bros. Farms and Sakuma Berry distributors to let them know that you demand that the company settle with its berry pickers by signing a contract. Consider funding both Familias Unidas por la Justicia and Community to Community as farmworkers lead us towards a sustainable and equitable food system with dignity and respect!

    To support the workers directly, please make checks out to Familias Unidas por la Justicia and send to:

    Familias Unidas por la Justicia
    P.O. Box 1206,
    Burlington, WA 98233

    justicia para todos

    As this struggle continues, it is vital that the workers know they are supported by the community. Please send cards, notes of encouragement and of course financial support which is tax deductible.

    To support C2C directly for ongoing administrative support, leadership development, research, organizing support, networking, and media go to:

    click on the “donate” button to the right of the screen or send checks made out to:

    Community to Community Development
    203 W. Holly Street, Ste. 317
    Bellingham, WA 98225.


    Familias Unidas Por La Justicia

    July 26, 2013

    A Photo Essay by Star Angelina Murray

    Artist Bio:

    Star Angelina Murray is an artist from the South Sound region of Washington State.In honor of her musical daughter, Star’s photography emphasizes the musicality of labor, forced migration, Mexican American identity and dispossession. Star is dedicated to images that represent the search for human dignity.

    Raul Merino Camp 2 Cabin 66

    Ramon y Diana Torres

    Federico Lopez Camp 2 Cabin 69

    Francisco Eugenio Paz Camp 2 Cabin 46

    Antonio Jimenez and Ana Lopez Camp 1 Cabin 24

    Carmen Juarez Vasquez Camp 1 Cabin 22

    Rogelio Dionicio Camp 2 Cabin 45


    Camp 2 Cabin 45

    Camp 2 next to basketball court


    Ramon Torres Extended Family


    Josefina Pineda Camp 2 Cabin 48

    Juana Sanchez Camp 2 Cabin 49

    Lopez Camp 2 Cabin 69

    Luisa Milagro Camp 2 Cabin 47

    Marcelina Vasquez Camp 2 Cabin 34

    Maura Vasquez 20282 Lafayette Rd Apt 225


    Striking Families Camp 2

    Teofino Eugenio Camp 2 Cabin 68


    What’s really at Stake?

    July 25, 2013

    (Co-Authored by Marco)
    Amigo. Photo by Marco.

    Bow, WA- July 25, 2013 – How do we negotiate a false dichotomy that pits better working and living conditions for farmworkers against a call for viable local farms? For many of the farmworkers who are currently on their third day of their second work stoppage at Sakuma Brothers Farms, this false dichotomy ignores the simple truth, that the fate of the growers and the farmworkers are bound together.

    Niño. Photo by Marco.

    The farmworkers contend that if they are treated poorly, and offered low wages, their performance as highly skilled pickers will also suffer, negatively impacting the growers. This is the core of their appeal, that their dignity should be made whole through fair trade wages along with common decency and respectful treatment at their workplace and homes at the hands of company representatives.

    White shirt. Photo By Marco

    To gain a better perspective, it is important to understand what is at stake in this particular farmworker struggle. This past week Marco, an 8 year old resident of Labor Camp 2 has been keeping me company. The photographs featured in this article are taken from his perspective.

    Káráni author Tomás Madrigal. Photo by Marco.

    According to Marco and his friends, what they enjoy about living in the labor camp are simple things. They like that there is a forest behind their camp, and a park for them to play in. They like that they have the ability to pick blackberries to eat whenever they feel the urge. They also enjoy the food vendors who come directly to the camp as well as the “gabachos” who come to give away food and trade candies for hugs. They like living in the labor camp, they just wish that their cabins came with bathrooms, because the out door latrines are scary in the dark. The youth said that when the summer harvest ends, they usually go to live in an apartment where they spend their time indoors, and that some families go far far away.

    Self-portrait. Photo by Marco.

    Marco reports that his parents are not working at the moment. He claims that it is because there is a problem. He said that his parents are not treated nice, that some people are mean.

    Vecinas. Photo by Marco.

    The treatment that the parents of these youth receive at the workplace and in their homes shapes in turn the way that the youth are treated, and the way that the youth treat each other.

    untitled. Photo by Marco.

    Astute observers, after everyone goes home, the youth role play the behavior that was modeled by those who came to their camp from the outside. Whether that behavior was charity, disrespect, racism, or perhaps dignity.

    Entrevista. Photo by Marco.

    On my way out last night, I saw Marco and his friends play in the empty grass field at the entrance of their home, where an encampment had been erected earlier that day, the youth were waving picket signs that read “respect,” pumping their fists and chanting “¡SI SE PUEDE!” yes we can!.

    Photo by David Bacon.

    This is what is at stake.

    Photo by Marco

    FIOB Denuncia contra Sakuma Brothers Farms

    July 24, 2013

    DENUNCIA de Migrantes WA page 1

    DENUNCIA de Migrantes WA page 2

    Who is Federico Lopez? Initial round of negotiations with Sakuma Brothers Farm results in Reinstatement of striking strawberry picker.

    July 13, 2013


    Federico Lopez and his family in front of their cabin. Photo by Star Murray.

    BURLINGTON, WA – A farmworker strike committee met with Ryan Sakuma today for negotiations leading the first victory of the labor dispute, Federico Lopez was reinstated.

    Lopez and his family are from the Triqui language community of San Martin Itunyoso, in Oaxaca in South Western Mexico, just south of the Mixteco region. Here he attended public school all the way through high school which has made him fluently bilingual in Spanish and Triqui languages.


    San Martin Itunyoso, Oaxaca. Photo by Center for Latin American Studies, UC Berkeley.

    On Friday, July 12, 2013 I had a chance to interview Federico Lopez near his home in Burlington, WA. He is a new father, and devoted husband, Lopez met his wife in California while he was working pruning table grapes in the Central Valley. After meeting his wife, Lopez began to migrate to Burlington, WA and has worked at Sakuma Brothers Farm as a berry picker for two years. He makes about $6,000 over four months of berry picking and migrates to start the pruning season in California around December. His wife also works alongside him.

    Lopez has never been a part of a work stoppage before, but he was adamant that the reason he had to speak up is because his wife had a grievance with Sakuma farms for the past six years she has worked for the company. Her checks always come out smaller than his, sometimes as low as $200 a week, even though they had worked over 40 hours. He claimed that they were both tired of systematically being cheated out of pounds here and there because they add up. He is on strike because he would like to have his wife and other farmworker’s grievances for back wages settled because he believes that have been stolen via this type of systematic miscalculation brought about by technological advancements and standardization.

    Seth M. Holmes, in his recently published monograph Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (2013) documented the systemic miscalculation of berry bins by mostly anglo, teenage checkers in the Skagit Valley (68-71).

    The Sakuma Brothers farm is the largest of its kind in Skagit County, a vertically integrated industrialized agricultural farm employing upwards of 800 workers during peak season with business offices in California and Washington.

    Because of this wealth, Sakuma Brothers Farms has been able to employ the most advance technology available for mechanized harvesting and also for electronic inventory management via the introduction of magnetized worker identification cards and scale scanners operated by Checkers. This technology comes with its negatives and positives, for the farmer it is a way to standardize production, for the farmworker it is a way to take the pace of production and autonomy away from the pickers.

    Threats of bringing in the mechanized harvester have been used to squash worker grievances, or as happened on Thursday, to argue that the growers are “good people” because they allowed the workers to harvest and earn money instead of using the more “efficient” machines on a particular field. The workers, however, were not phased by the machines, knowing that quantity does not top the quality picking that they are able to do.

    The recent introduction of scale scanners and worker id cards makes it difficult for workers to keep track of their production and earnings. The record keeping aspect of their picking is computerized and held in the hands of the checkers and the Sakuma Brothers Farm. The workers have explained that the machine maxes out at 30 pounds per bin, if they pick more than 30 pounds, they are cheated out of 1-5 pounds of produce, systematically, which little by little adds up.

    What the farmworkers understand as wage theft has been described by some supervisors as “pickers…trying to ‘get away with’ more berries per bucket because they were ‘lazy’”(70). Even the growers have described these hard working indigenous families in such derogatory ways, accusing them of being “drunks” with “violent” tendencies. Holmes in his early 2000s ethnographic study in the region debunked this stereotype, which he argued “serves to legitimate the ethnic-citizenship hierarchy on the farm as well as the racist treatment the migrant farmworkers receive”(98).

    The farmworker strike committee is trying to meet with Ryan Sakuma tomorrow, Saturday July 13, 2013 to negotiate the contract wage from 30 cents to 70 cents a pound. They want to negotiate that rate before they go back to work, possibly as soon as Sunday.


    Poster by Interfaith Worker Justice Center in Illinois.


    To support the strike please spread the word, the solidarity community of consumers is boycotting Northwest Variety Strawberries produced by Sakuma Brothers Farms found in Haägen-Dazs strawberry ice cream and other creamy desserts. We haven’t yet established a strike fund, but Community to Community Development ( has been spending funds to support the strike, if you would like to contribute, please donate online or send a check allocated to the Sakuma Strike Fund and we will make sure it gets to the workers.

    Solidaridad con los Campesinos Triqui y Mixtecos de Burlington!

    Triqui and Mixteco Strawberry Pickers on Strike for Dignity!

    July 12, 2013

    Workers March to Camp 2 after negotiations. Photo by Edgar Franks.

    Burlington, WA – It starts with a whistle, that ruptures the relative quiet of working as fast as you can, on your knees, back bent over, searching for the tiny ripe strawberries that stain your hands, trying to make the minimum weight. The whistle is answered, meaning someone else agrees with the original whistles discontent, and soon a chorus erupts in resounding symphony of agreement and workers walk off the field en masse. This was how one of the first Triqui sitdown strikes occurred in the region the mid 2000s, as described by anthropologist Seth M. Holmes in his book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (2013) that exposes the plight of migrant Triqui farmworkers. This strike ended with a memo agreed upon by the farm’s executives, that addressed grievances about racism in the fields, by creating a company policy against intimidation and violence in the workplace. The agreement also resulted in slightly higher pay and allowed lunch breaks for pickers, these gains were silently rescinded a year later.

    On Thursday, July 11, 2013 a little over 200 farmworkers walked off the fields at Sakuma Brothers Farms ( in Burlington, WA. Triqui and Mixteco strawberry pickers and their families organized the strike. Farmworkers met with Ryan Sakuma, a crop manager and several foremen shortly after 2:00pm. Meeting for just over an hour, the farmworkers voiced their grievances to Ryan Sakuma over the unfair contract wage (30 cents/lb) for berries compared to California (70 cents/lb), the unjust firing of Lopez, and the undignified mistreatment they receive at the hands of the foremen in the fields and at their labor camps.


    Triqui and Mixteco Farmworkers on the way to meet with Steve Sakuma. Photo by Tomás Madrigal

    This strike occurred because of events that transpired on July 10, 2013 when Federico Lopez was fired for organizing other pickers to strike.


    Federico Lopez listens to his foreman accuse him of intimidating workers. Photo by Tomás Madrigal

    Grower Ryan Sakuma, hearing about the incident second hand from his foreman “El Güero,” interpreted Lopez’ labor organizing as an act of intimidation against other pickers, and cited the Sakuma Brothers Farm company policy against “intimidation, threats and violence in the workplace.” Sakuma apologized if he was mistaken, but he said he had to stand firm with company policy.


    Rosalinda Guillen and Angelica Villa Translate. Photo by Tomás Madrigal

    Rosalinda Guillen and Angelica Villa from Community to Community Development ( were on hand to serve as impromptu mediators and translators for the striking farmworkers. When she translated what Ryan Sakuma had explained, the farmworkers and their families said that nobody had intimidated them and that on the contrary they had felt intimidated by the foremen.


    Grower Ryan Sakuma explains why he fired Federico Lopez. Photo by Tomás Madrigal

    The reason that Federico Lopez was organizing in the first place was that many of the farmworkers were upset with their production contract of .30 cents per pound because it was making it difficult for most pickers to meet the minimum weight which could lead to their dismissal.

    One farmworker said that many pickers were only making $45 to $53 a day. Washington State’s minimum wage is $9.19 per hour, or $73.52 a day. She explained that they were also worried about being evicted from the labor camps because the minimum weight of 246 lbs per day based on an 8 hour day was too difficult to meet. Farmworkers of course work way more than an 8 hour day, the same picker explained that the strawberry field they were currently working was sparse and that the berries were small, this meant that they had to work extra fast, and that the foremen and checkers would yell at them because they had debris in the bins, and would consistently undercount the weight of each 30 pound bin they would check.

    This experience corresponds with what was documented by Seth M. Holmes in the early 2000s when he was conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Burlington. Holmes argued, “The white checkers are given power over how many pounds are marked for the pickers, and I observed more often than not that checkers marked less weight on the cards than the scale displayed”(Holmes 70). The picker I was speaking to in Spanish was a young Triqui mother, her daughter hugging on her leg as we spoke, she was adamant that she also had grievances of her own and wanted them heard. Expressing frustration with the patriarchal structure of the farm’s hierarchy.

    Holmes maps out the class, ethnic and racial hierarchical structure of a Skagit Valley berry farm in his long term in situ ethnographic study. His findings demonstrate that Triqui and Mixteco migrant farmworkers are on the very bottom rung when it comes to respect, earnings and working conditions. Adding gender and age to the hierarchy, you can imagine just how difficult it is for a young Triqui single mother to work at Sakuma Brothers Farm.


    Farmworker women at a Sakuma Labor Camp. Photo by Edgar Franks

    She later sought me out to explain to me that there was also preferential treatment by the farm managers as far as who got to pick the better fields or work at hourly positions like checkers. One such person was José, a mestizo foreman, this farmworker accused Jose’s wife of being verbally abusive to workers when she worked as a checker, and she also accused José of favoritism when it came to allocating fields, his wife and her crew always got preference for fields that were easy to pick.


    Sakuma Foreman being confronted by farmworkers. Photo by Tomás Madrigal

    Another Sakuma Foreman was confronted by the farmworkers for yelling at them, for treating them like children. One foreman was even mentioned by name, Antonio Lopez, in the list of demands as a foreman that the pickers wanted to have fired or removed.


    The list of demands asks for no retaliation against Federico Lopez who is accused by Sakuma foreman Antonio Lopez of intimidating other farmworkers according to Marcelino Raymundo-Amenazo, in order to strike. The workers demand a raise in piece rate wage from .30 cents to .70 cents, to eliminate the new scanner technology from the fields, to use physical tickets instead, that workers not be intimidated in the workplace, that the foreman Antonio Lopez be removed as a manager, better treatment for workers in regards to respect, clean living space, better housing, no yelling or threats by those above, to have sick leave, not to be harassed at home early in the morning to go to work, not to require professional verification in order to miss work because of illness, to not be disrespectful to workers, for managers not to intimidate workers, that workers fired for striking be reimbursed for their transportation costs as migrant farm workers, workers demand to know why Sakuma only asked for guest workers for the blueberries and not for strawberries (harder work) if there really is a labor shortage, pickers want to be paid overtime, resolution regarding problems with Child Care.

    The farmworkers have met with representatives from the Northwest Justice Project who have organized their labor claims, and are set to demonstrate on July 12, 2013 at a Washington State legislative shindig in Everett, WA. Ryan Sakuma stated that no one will be working on his farm until Monday July 15, 2013. Negotiations are set to take place with 11 elected community representatives made up of men and women from the Triqui community, we will know by the end of today July 12, 2013 if Federico Lopez will be officially fired.

    To support this labor struggle you can get the word out, join a consumer boycott against Haägen-Dazs strawberry ice cream and any other strawberry dairy product that uses Sakuma Brothers Farms Northwest Variety strawberries.


    C2CLogoTo join the solidarity efforts on the ground or to support this work financially you can contact Community to Community Development at 360-381-0293 or 360-756-2330 or e-mail at, for updates visit our website at and look for us on facebook:


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