Farmworkers address wage and hour disputes at Sakuma Brothers Farms.

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Farmworker Rights Committee disputes pay discrepancies. Photo by Angelica Villa.

Burlington, WA – July 19, 2013 – The Farmworker Rights Committee met with Ryan Sakuma, office administrators and management this Friday to address discrepancies in their paychecks, including minors. Two major discrepancies were found. One was in the paystubs of minors (pickers under 18 yrs old) and the second was in the wage and hour of workers who pick in the morning and transition to hourly labor in the afternoon. Minors, who are paid $7.81 per hour according to a Sakuma Brothers Farm Administrator, were being paid less hours than they actually worked, resulting in dismal paychecks. This discrepancy prompted Sakuma Brother’s Farms to commit to a full audit of all paystubs for minors for the strawberry picking season. Rhonda, the Sakuma Brothers Farm administrator reviewing the paystubs, agreed to “check each of the kids [pay]checks and do the math, any shortages will be written in a check for them. If I can do it fast enough, the check will be ready next week.”

The farmworker rights committee advocated for adults to also be a part of the audit, Ryan Sakuma agreed to conduct a “sporadic self-check” and do a full audit only if major discrepancies were found in the adult population.

The worker rights committee brought this concern to management from over 200 workers who believe these discrepancies are due to the limits of new technology being used to calculate the weight of berries picked and their time clocked in and out of work in the fields. Sakuma Brothers Farms has integrated an electronic timekeeping system which has a few glitches when it comes to managing farmworkers that move between piece-rate picking to hourly jobs such as hoeing, weeding or moving equipment. The workers insist that it is management’s responsibility to have adequate equipment and systems to keep accurate records. They are advocating towards a return to the paper ticket method for piece-rate picking; the new method makes it difficult for farmworkers to keep track of their hours and production because there is no physical record.

Ryan Sakuma committed on Friday to going over the same process of pay stub verification with any worker that had concerns, “If people want to talk with us and want us to explain this, we will go out there.” The committee reminded him that there were language barriers, many of the farmworkers are monolingual in Triqui or Mixteco and would require translators. The committee agreed to take this information back to the people so that they could decide how to proceed.

Another issue that came up was cabin deductions. Farmworkers who live in Sakuma Brothers Farms labor camps are required to pay a deposit that is deducted from their paycheck. This week most of the committee members earned a net pay range of $50 to $70 after a deduction of 50% of their pay was made for the farm labor camp cabin fee. One farmworker earned $116.00 and was paid $66 with a $50.00 deduction for the cabin deposit, the farmworkers said that they were not opposed to paying the cabin fee, but thought it was unjust and in bad faith of Sakuma Brothers Farm to deduct half of their paycheck in one pay period, especially when the net pay was so low and management knew they had been a week with no wages. “How do you expect us to feed our families, put gasoline in our cars? This doesn’t even cover our gas to get to the fields” said worker rights committee member Filemon Pineda. The Sakuma Brother’s Farms operation manager told the farmworkers with a smile, “You could have worked last week, but you didn’t.” Making it appear that the deduction was in retaliation for the work stoppage. After listening to the Farmworker Rights Committee, Ryan Sakuma agreed to take the issue into further consideration.

The worker rights committee asked to schedule another negotiation session to continue discussions regarding the demands still on the list including the issue of the new consultant Ermelindo Escobedo. Ramon Torres gave Ryan Sakuma a short list of complaints from workers about his presence in the fields and asked that this issue be added to the agenda of the next session.

Ryan Sakuma reiterated that he and his father were committed to finishing discussing the list of demands and that he would speak with Ermelindo Escobedo about the complaints.

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Ermelindo Escobedo. Photo by Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, University of Washington.

According to Ryan Sakuma, Ermelindo Escobedo “is a person who we hired when [the farmworkers] said management and supervisors were out of touch with the workers, [Sakuma Brothers Farm, Inc] hired Ermelindo Escobedo as a third party person to go out and talk to the workers.” The Farmworker Rights Committee responded that they did not want a third party involved, and that they believed they had agreed to transparent and direct communication and negotiation with Ryan and Steve Sakuma. Ryan Sakuma let the committee know, “We will have third party people come to the field often, nobody has to talk to them, it is your choice.”

HOW TO GET INVOLVED:

Donate to the Sakuma Workers’ Fund. Go to http://www.foodjustice.org, click on the “donate” button to the right of the screen or send a check written out to Community to Community Development labeled “Sakuma Workers’ Fund” to 203 W. Holly Street, Ste. 317, Bellingham, WA 98225.

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Poet Angelica Guillen Persons the Skagit County Strike Relief Effort. Photo by Tomás Madrigal.

In-kind donations may be delivered to the C2C Office, 203 W. Holly Street, Ste. 317, Bellingham or to the Skagit County Democratic Party Office, 300 S 1st St # A Mt Vernon. All of these items (in large quantities) are needed at this time:

BASICS

    • Toilet Paper
    • Diapers sizes 3-6 and newborn
    • Laundry detergent
    • Shampoo
    • Soap, body wash
    • Feminine hygiene products
    • Baby wipes
    • Body lotion
    • Dish Soap
    • Toothpaste
    • Toothbrushes
    • Razors
    • Baby Oil
    • Infant/Children Car Seats
    • High Chair
    • Crib
    • Children’s bikes
    • Zip lock bags of all sizes
    • Aluminum Foil
    • No Clothing Please.

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