For Immediate Release
August 15, 2013, 5:00pm PST
Contact: Rosalinda Guillen
Community to Community Development
Phone (360) 738-0893
203 W. Holly, Ste 317
Bellingham, WA 98225
Community to Community Development Files Official Complaint to the US Department of Labor to revoke Sakuma Brothers Farms application for 170 H-2A guest workers.
Felimon Pineda and his wife in their cabin at Labor Camp 2. Photo by David Bacon
Burlington, WA, August 15, 2013: Just yesterday, committee member Felimon Pineda, explained why the workers were feeling stressed and uncertain about their place at Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. Pineda, a seasoned Mixteco speaking farm worker, has worked in the United States since the 2000s, beginning his tenure in the United States south east picking tomatoes. He worked in Santa Maria, California in the mid-2000s picking strawberries for a Mixteco sharecropper, and transitioned to working locally in the Skagit County beginning in 2007 at Sakuma Brothers Farms and several other local growers.
Pineda explained that the problem they are experiencing has to do with the crop cycle and the organization of labor at Sakuma Brothers Farm. Most migrant farmworkers come for three distinct crops, Strawberries in June, Blueberries in July, and Blackberries in August.
Most of the wage issues that the workers have had over the years have been with delicate, highly perishable, and labor intensive strawberries and blueberries, which require a higher quality control than the blackberries. Blackberries are also paid higher, at the moment $4.25 per fresh market box, whereas blueberries at the moment are being paid at $3.50 per fresh market box.
Farm workers getting ready for work. Photo by David Bacon.
He also explained that in order to earn well with piece rates, it is important for fast workers to pick independently, because their production is rounded off based upon how many workers there are per cart. The way that Sakuma Brothers Farm has organized the picking crews this year has placed four pickers per cart in the Blueberry harvest, and maintained the standard two pickers per cart for the blackberry harvest. Pineda explained that this has strayed from the standard they were used to in the blueberry harvest in past years and this has made it difficult for workers to earn enough to justify their migration to Washington, in particular because many of the farmworkers have been laid off for multiple reasons including the weather, ripeness of berries, quality of picking, and of course the strikes. The workers fear that Sakuma Brothers Farms is engaging in a constructive termination strategy, which is why they were so adamant about having a written document as proof that there would be no reprisals for their work stoppages.
The blackberry harvest started three weeks ago, in those three weeks, Sakuma Brothers Farms has deviated from past standards of recognizing seniority on behalf of workers who were employed since the beginning of the strawberry harvest. Pineda says, “It is now the reverse, migrants who haven’t even moved into cabins yet, have started working in the blackberry harvest,” while farmworkers who have been working since the Strawberry season have been laid off.
He explained that because of the housing that is dedicated to the 170 guestworkers that Sakuma Brothers Farms applied for to harvest Blackberries, there are migrant farmworker families who have just arrived from California who are living in overcrowded conditions inside their family’s cabins at the labor camps. The farmworkers of Familias Unidas por la Justicia are not against these other migrant workers nor the H-2A guestworkers, rather they are concerned that if there is little work and many workers who are currently laid off, what will happen to them?
Hyperink to .pdf of letter: A Formal Complaint