Thug Life! 21st century strike breaking at Sakuma Brothers Farm.

Hired Thugs Photo by Raul Merino

Sakuma Brothers Farms secret “Security Guards”. Photo by Raul Merino.

Burlington, WA – July 31, 2013 – In an extension of the hostility and workplace harassment that farmworkers filed grievances against in a July 10, 2013 work stoppage, the use of intimidation against Familias Unidas por la Justicia has continued. The use of brute force by legal or extralegal means to resolve a labor disputes has a long tradition in Washington State dating back to the beginnings of the 20th century.


The migrant farmworkers, self-organized as Familias Unidas por la Justicia, currently involved in a labor dispute with Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. and have experienced a few incidents of intimidation:

    • On Wednesday, July 13, 2013, labor consultant Ermelindo Escobedo intervened in a worker dispute between Familias Unidas por la Justicia president Ramon Torres and two supervisors. Torres took this behavior to be odd and asked the consultant to leave in a verbal disagreement that resulted in both parties leaving the fields.


Labor Consultants Raul Calvo and Mario Vargas pose with Skagit Deputy Sheriff Esskew as they observe a picket line. Photo by Tomás Madrigal.

    • On Wednesday, July 24, 2013 Ryan Sakuma called the Skagit Sheriff’s office in an attempt to shut down a picket line shortly after a meeting at 7:00am where negotiations had broken down. The Sheriff arrived and noted that it was a non-violent protest and that there was nothing the Sheriff’s department could do except let people know to be safe and not to park next to the field across the street. It was reported by a news crew that Jim Riggan blocked Benson Road with his truck so that a camera crew from a Seattle based television station could not pass to Labor Camp 2 that morning. Later that day, consultants Raul Calvo and Mario Vargas watched from across the street.


Sakuma Operations Manager Jim Riggan intimidates workers on picket line duty. Photo by Tomás Madrigal.

    • On Thursday, July 25, 2013, a line of cars was positioned two hours earlier than they usually start work in the morning in the field across the street from the main picket line, with very few workers. At about 9:00am, an unknown blue truck charged the second, smaller picket line, and came back with Operations Manager Jim Riggan, who blocked the picket line with his truck, yelled at the farmworkers, and took photographs.

    • On Friday, July 26, 2013 John Segale was identified by a reporter as a Media Consultant for Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. Segale’s firm, Precision Public Relations specializes in media relations support for crisis communications such as boycotts and labor unrest. Around the same time, a smear campaign had begun against Rosalinda Guillen and the democratically elected negotiations committee for Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc had also released an official statement prepared for the Skagit Valley Herald to explain away the farmworkers claims of retaliation via differential wages which in turn sparked a second work stoppage as negotiations broke down.

Photo by Angelica Villa

Rosalinda Guillen called the Burlington Police Department to investigate the farmworker’s stalkers. Photo by Angelica Guillen.

    • Beginning on Saturday, July 27, 2013, several burly white men have been casing Labor Camp 2 and the fields where the Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, unannounced in a white dodge Charger and a Black SUV with California plates. At the request of the residents of Labor Camp 2, Rosalinda Guillen called the Burlington Police Department to investigate at 6:00AM on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Jim Riggan was the first Sakuma employee to intervene on their behalf, later Ryan Sakuma confirmed that these two men are “hired security guards” who are “monitoring the coming and goings of guests to the labor camp.” Rosalinda Guillen explained that the farmworkers felt intimidated by these men, who were unannounced, and feared for their safety.

    • On Monday, August 5, 2013, Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Ramon Torres approached a man who was casing the farm workers as they worked, upon asking the man to identify himself, Torres was informed that this man was a “security guard” hired by Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. Torres informed the “security guard” that he was not welcome at their workplace, citing that on July 31, 2013 Sakuma executives had agreed to retract “security guards” during a four hour mediation. The “security guard” retreated one mile down the road and remained in his vehicle observing the farm workers as they worked.

    • Also on August 5, 2013, Committee member Federico Lopez was pulled over on the farm this morning for allegedly speeding, he was given a citation, Lopez maintains that he was driving the speed limit.

    • Early in the morning on August 5, 2013, 15 of the youth who received back pay settlements were dismissed, the youth reported that their supervisor sent them home because the H-2A guestworker’s had arrived and their labor was not needed anymore.

    • At 10:00AM on August 5, 2013, farm workers organized as Familias Unidas por la Justicia were suddenly layed off, their supervisor informed them that it was due to poor picking quality.


On August 3, 1913 a strike that came to be known as the Wheatland Riot against the IWW at the Ralph Durst Ranch in California resulted in four deaths and over a dozen wounded (Acuña 2004: 163-64; McWilliams 1971: Ch IX). The most horrific use of brute force to break a strike in Washington State in the 20th century was the Everett Massacre which occurred on November 5, 1915 where 200 armed vigilante “deputies” led by Snohomish County Sheriff McRae confronted two steamers holding 300 IWW workers from Seattle who were docking to support striking shingle workers. The massacre resulted in at least 7 deaths, and over 47 wounded. These riots were followed up by what became known as the Palmer Raids where many IWW union organizers were arrested and imprisoned or deported by the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice.

These types of “vigilante committees” were common throughout the United States, spurred by what has come to be known as the first Red Scare immediately after World War I. In Washington, Whatcom County and Skagit County were the most active enclaves of vigilante activity. The Ku Klux Klan marched through Bellingham’s downtown in 1926 and later hosted a Washington State Convention of the KKK in 1929. This period of vigilante activity followed what would come to be known as the 1907 “Hindu” Riots in Bellingham, where Sikh migrant workers were brutally and forcefully expelled by hundreds of white vigilantes.


Farmworkers have been subjected to brutal repression over the 20th century. 1917 was a busy year for Mexican farmworkers in California with “several farm strikes…hit the Corona, Riverside, Colton, Redlands and San Bernadino areas of California”(Acuña 171). The strike at Corona Lemon Company resulted in the arrest of “Juan Peña and other leaders on unspecified charges”(Ibid). According to Ernesto Galarza (1964) a 1928 a strike led by Mexican farmworkers in the Imperial Valley California, “was defeated by arrests and deportations”(39; Acuña 196-97). A 1930 strike in the Imperial Valley was broken when the Sheriff conducted raids and arrested 103 farmworkers and eight union leaders sentenced to between 2-28 years each at San Quentin (Acuña 215). A 1933 cotton strike in California was “broken by organized violence”(Galarza 39). A 1936 strike in Orange County was put down by “Sheriffs deputies and special guards numbering more than 400”(Ibid). According to Acuña, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) also “harassed picketers on the road, and police authorities arrested some 200”(220). Mexican farmworkers in Santa Paula were evicted in 1941 in large numbers and replaced by dustbowl refugees (Galarza 39). In 1951 over 4000 braceros were used to break a strike in El Centro, California and even though the union filed a grievance with the US and Mexican governments, the braceros remained through the harvest (Ibid).

Later in the mid 20th century, in 1943, Burlington was the site of one of many strikes by Mexican Bracero’s in Washington State over wage ceilings and piece rates. Here, according to Erasmo Gamboa (1990), “a local Mexican American, with the help of a priest, convinced the braceros to halt work because farmers were paying higher wages to Anglos doing similar work”(80). Gamboa follows that, “growers ended the work stoppage by reminding Mexicans that strikes were prohibited under the terms of the contract and by giving the Mexican American a ‘friendly warning against inciting a riot in a government camp,’ as quoted in Northwest Farm News in 1944(ibid). Under the duress of intimidation, “the ‘instigator’ at once left and the workers returned to their jobs”(ibid). Throughout the 1950s police officers were routinely used to scare striking farmworkers into submission, it was the height of the second Red Scare and what would be the last decade of a strong trade unionism in the United States due to structural changes to organizing laws and the red baiting of strong union leadership.

Beginning in 1964, after the end of the Bracero program in the U.S. growers began to use undocumented labor, many of the braceros who had stayed, to break farmworker strikes. This was the context under which Cesar E. Chavez was invited to join the 1965 grape strike by Filipino farmworkers at Di Giorgio Corporation in the San Joaquin Valley (Acuña 312). The Di Giorgio Corporation saw to the introduction of trade union “goons” to intimidate farmworkers into submission, enlisting “the Teamsters in an attempt to break the NFWA”(313).

Throughout its tenure, the UFW witnessed many acts of brutality by hired “goons” many resulting in death. In 1973 Nagi Daifallah, a UFW member was murdered by blunt trauma to the head by Deputy Sheriff Gilbert Cooper of Kern County when 15 UFW members were harassed by Police in Arvin (UFW Martyrs, 4). Also in 1973, UFW member Juan de la Cruz was murdered by gunfire while he was on a picketline near Arvin, CA (6). On February 10, 1979 three armed foremen on a lettuce field in the Imperial Valley shot at striker Rufino Contreras and six other striking workers, killing Contreras in the crossfire (8). In 1983 Rene Lopez “was shot to death at point blank range by company goons hired to harass the strikers” at a dairy in Fresno (12).

The UFW’s sole contract in Washington State happens to be one that was signed on December 5, 1995 at Château Ste. Michelle under the leadership of Rosalinda Guillen. In an oral history with Guillen, Maria Cuevas exposed the depth of sexual violence in the workplace. In an oral history interview with Sharon Walker and Sarah Laslett (2004) for the United Farmworkers of Washington State Project at UW, Rosalinda Guillen describes the types of violence and intimidation women had experienced at Château Ste. Michelle from supervisors.

Another form of intimidation were attacks on her character and destruction of property, Guillen recounts,”Our cars were vandalized. We spent two weeks without vehicles because someone had vandalized all of our vehicles. Sugar in the engines, my gas tank, somebody had poked holes in it.”(ibid)

Another form of farmworker intimidation was brought by third party labor consultants, “They brought in three union busters. The first two we wiped out. One of the union busters they brought in lasted like 3 months” (ibid). One of these labor consultants was the now deceased Seattle based Chicano activist Roberto Maestas, another was Adan Ortega from California. According to Guillen, “They brought in union busters and their job is to divide and conquer and get workers fighting with each other—we’re talking closed meetings, individual meetings and harassment. A lot of people got fired, we got them reinstated”(ibid). This type of intimidation is anything but new.


Since the turn of the 20th century labor consulting firms, like Corporations Auxillary Company have been notorious for instigating much of the brutal violence discussed above, in 1913, Corporations Auxillary Company touted:

Our man will come to your factory and get acquainted… If he finds little disposition to organize, he will not encourage organization, but will engineer things so as to keep organization out. If, however, there seems a disposition to organize he will become the leading spirit and pick out just the right men to join. Once the union is in the field its members can keep it from growing if they know how, and our man knows how. Meetings can be set far apart. A contract can at once be entered into with the employer, covering a long period, and made very easy in its terms. However, these tactics may not be good, and the union spirit may be so strong that a big organization cannot be prevented. In this case our man turns extremely radical. He asks for unreasonable things and keeps the union embroiled in trouble. If a strike comes, he will be the loudest man in the bunch, and will counsel violence and get somebody in trouble. The result will be that the union will be broken up (Laidler, 1913, 291-292)

The Corporations Auxillary Company had over 449 clients from 1933 to 1936 (Abt & Myerson, 1993, 63). To this day, this method of breaking strikes have continued a legacy that has moved into the computer age of the 21st Century.




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