Luis Jimenez with his recovered minimum wage check from Sakuma Brothers Farms. Photo by Rosalinda Guillen.
Burlington, WA – July 31, 2013 –In a bittersweet victory for Familias Unidas por la Justicía, several farmworkers who are minors (12-16 years old) received backpay settlement checks on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. According to a previous Karani report “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.” According to Ramón Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicía, Luis Jimenez (15 years old) had earned a meager $52.00 in one pay period because he was being paid by piece rate during the strawberry harvest.
On Friday, July 19, 2013, Familias Unidas por la Justicía had demanded that their employer, Sakuma Brothers Farms, make corrections to all of the farmworkers disputed paychecks. At that meeting, the payroll supervisor apologized, stating “we are processing 700 checks a week, and if a mistake is made, you should bring it in and we can fix it.”
That is precisely what Familias Unidas por la Justicia did following up on their ongoing negotiations with the firm over wage disputes and mistreatment at the workplace and in their homes. At that meeting, the payroll supervisor agreed to, “audit 4500, all of the kids.” When the committee pressed for all of the worker’s paychecks to be audited for wage discreptancies, Ryan Sakuma intervened and said that he would commit only to a “sporadic check” of the adult farmworkers and do more should they find major discreptancies.
An overview of the Sakuma Brothers Farm Labor Dispute
On July 10, 2013 farmworker Federico Lopez was fired and his family was evicted from labor camp 2 at Sakuma Brothers Farm for voicing a grievance against a low piece rate. On July 11, 2013 over 200 farmworkers, mostly of indigenous heritage, began a work stoppage that lasted six days. Two of their demands were met in that time, Federico Lopez was reinstated and a hostile supervisor was removed from overseeing the striking farmworkers. The farmworkers returned to work in good faith upon a promise by Sakuma owners to participate in the process of determining future piece rates for the berry harvests.
On July 22, 2013 the farmworkers began a second, three day work stoppage, over differential pay that the farmworkers viewed as retaliation for their first work stoppage. On July 24, 2013 the crisis escalated when the striking farmworkers were given an ultimatum by Ryan Sakuma to accept $3.50 per flat or leave. Solidarity community leadership intervened on July 25, 2013 to bring both parties back to the negotiation table, on July 26, 2013 the farmworkers ended their second work stoppage in good faith that direct negotiations would continue. On July 31, 2013, after having been harassed via surveillance by hired security guards for four days, the Sakuma Management hired a former federal mediator who met with Familias Unidas por la Justicia for four hours. At this negotiation, Sakuma executives agreed to retract said security guards and return to the negotiation table with the mediator. Farmworkers have been discussing whether or not they will accept a third party negotiator, as they have made many statements of their preference for direct negotiation with their employer.