Burlington, WA – July 17, 2013. Farmworkers see the presence of a labor consultant in their negotiations with Sakuma Brothers Farms executives as a breech of faith. This is not the first breech of faith that the farmworker rights committee has had to deal with. On July 16, 2013 during the first cooperative field test to set the new piece rate, supervisors brought in secondary picker’s to pick on behalf of the firm. The farmworker rights committee understood this as an effort to drive a wedge between pickers, by positioning a fellow worker, beholden to the management, against the committee. Ermelindo Escobedo’s presence in the field is also understood as an effort to break the unity of this farmworker movement for human dignity
Ermelindo Escobedo appeared at Sakuma Brothers Farm on Wednesday July 17, 2013. He approached people as they picked, several farmworkers refused to speak with him. He then spoke with committee President Ramon Torres and asked him about the worker’s demands. Torres believed that he was from the press and mentioned the demands he remembered off of the top of his head. Escobedo then asked him what was it that the committee wanted, which of these demands he believed to be the most important. Torres told him that he needed to talk to the committee about that.
After having a moment to think, Torres read the business card that Escobedo had handed him, it read “Worker Strategist,” thinking back to their exchange, Torres decided to follow up. He approached Escobedo and asked if he could speak to him in private. Escobedo obliged, Torres asked another worker to be a witness because everyone else was working. Torres informed Escobedo that it was not ok for him to be in the fields with them. He asked under whose authority he was present. Escobedo told him that he was there on behalf of Ryan Sakuma and Steve Sakuma and that he would be responsible for negotiating an agreement between the workers and the Sakuma executives. Torres said that that was not acceptable, that the workers did not want him as a go between. That they were a capable committee and his presence was not in accordance with the agreements the farmworkers had made with Sakuma Brothers Farms.
Escobedo asked Torres why he spoke for all of the farmworkers. Torres identified himself as the democratically elected President of the Farmworkers Rights Committee. Escobedo demanded proof of their authority, Torres responded that his proof was the signatures of 172 pickers who signed an agreement to support the committee, and that list has grown to over 220 since the work stoppage. Escobedo asked if he had permission to share Torres demands with Sakuma. Torres told him no, he did not have his permission because the committee was in charge of negotiating. Before he left, Escobedo requested a meeting with the committee on Saturday July 20, 2013, Torres refused on behalf of the committee because the farmworkers were fully capable of negotiating with the Sakuma’s directly.
Later in the evening, after reporting to the larger community of migrant farmworkers, including translation from Spanish to Triqui and Mixteco, the farmworkers unanimously agreed that they would negotiate directly with the Sakuma’s. The community unanimously agreed to not work with Ermelindo Escobedo or any other “worker strategist” hired by the firm. They also unanimously agreed that they would stop work again, should the Sakuma executives insist upon breeching their faith in the negotiations.
Who is Ermelindo Escobedo?
“After the federal commission began investigating National Food in 2010, the company sent a private investigator to offer compensation to some of the workers who had lodged complaints. Two female employees received undisclosed sums after they agreed not to participate in any suits against the company, according to redacted copies of the agreements.” (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021344699_farmworkerabusexml.html)
One and the same.