Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Fired by Sakuma, 300 pickers walk out

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Over 300 pickers rally after walking off the fields. Photo by Maru Mora.

Burlington, WA (September 12, 2013): This past week, Familias Unidas por la Justicia farmworkers held two separate strikes at Sakuma Bros. Farm, one with 150 blueberry pickers and another with 200 blackberry pickers. Both strikes gained wage increases of $1.00 and $0.75 respectively.

On Thursday September 12, 2013, committee member Filemon Piñeda reported that Familias Unidas por la Justicia President Ramon Torres was summarily fired for his role in the strikes. Farmworkers contend that Torres was fired for refusing to negotiate proposed minimum productivity requirements that grower Ryan Sakuma sought to implement as a condition of the wage increase. Torres saw this as a productivity “speed up” that not all pickers would be able to meet, putting at risk their ability to work.

Piñeda reported that he was there when the Skagit County Sheriff arrived to escort Torres to meet with the Sakumas and to remove him from the property. Piñeda said, “this is why they fired him, they [Sakuma executives] didn’t want to see him in the fields.”

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Farm Workers Rally at Sakuma Field Office. Photo by Maru Mora.

HUELGA!

Maru Mora reported that over 300 farmworkers rallied today, they had walked off the fields when they heard that Ramon Torres was fired and evicted. At noon, these farmworkers were rallying at the Sakuma business offices demanding Torres’ reinstatement.

Even with the gravity of the situation, the farmworkers were in good spirits. As they rallied, the committee members asked, “¿Nadie va trabajar?/is everyone going to stop work until this matter is resolved?” to which the crowd unanimously answered “Si!/ Yes!” as they cheered each other on for encouragement.

In Torres absence, the ability of the eleven member negotiation’s committee to lead has become obvious. The farmworkers understand that this theater by the corporation has no grounds and is little more than a scare tactic, of which the farmworkers are sick and tired of.

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Farmworkers Rally. Photo by Maru Mora.

A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

This farmworker struggle has many similarities with early efforts in California to fight for farmworker dignity. For example Cesar Chavez’s first attempt to organize farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley was met with similar repression and collaboration between growers and law enforcement:

“In September 1965 the NFWA launched their first strike in an effort to unionize grape workers. The picket was promptly declared illegal (Matthiessen 1969), convincing the union of the near impossibility of relying on the strike as a viable tactic. The collusion between growers and law enforcement, and the large supply of unemployed workers, compelled the NFWA to consider the boycott. Soon after, the AWOC and NFWA merged to create the United Farm Workers’ Organizing Committee (UFWOC). (Pulido, 1996, 71)

Federal Labor Law prohibits certain types of strikes that it considers to be unlawful strikes. California growers used an incorrect interpretation of this to try to limit the ability of farmworkers to strike. However, as Laura Pulido points out in regards to the aftermath of this attempt to bust the union, “The situation was somewhat ironic. If workers were not protected under the law, neither were they subject to its limitations. This situation allowed the UFWOC to conduct the first successful boycott, which was instrumental in bringing growers to the table” (70).

Familias Unidas por la Justicia migrant berry pickers are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) of 1935 nor the amendments in 1947 (Taft-Hartley Act) because they are agricultural workers. CATA a farmworker organization in New Jersey argues,

Section 2 of the act plainly states:

  • (3) The term “employee” shall include any employee, and shall not be limited to the employees of a particular employer, unless the Act [this subchapter] explicitly states otherwise, and shall include any individual whose work has ceased as a consequence of, or in connection with, any current labor dispute or because of any unfair labor practice, and who has not obtained any other regular and substantially equivalent employment, but shall not include any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or any individual having the status of an independent contractor, or any individual employed as a supervisor, or any individual employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act [45 § 151 et seq.], as amended from time to time, or by any other person who is not an employer as herein defined. http://www.nlrb.gov/publications/nlrb4.pdf (CATA Policy Manual, 3)

  • Because agricultural workers are exempt from these protections, they are also not subject to their limitations that govern strikes and boycotts. Sadly, this lack of recognition also excludes agricultural workers from basic worker rights like overtime pay, and other benefits most have come to take for granted including “whistle blower” protections making workers susceptible to reprisals by their employer that are unheard of outside of agriculture and domestic work.

    The solution that the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee struggled for and won in California was the passage of a California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 that extended many of those rights denied to agricultural workers by federal law via local state legislation.

    INNOVATIONS TO THE BOYCOTT

    Historian Matt Garcia in his book From the Jaws of Victory (2012) argues that the UFWOC creatively changed the way boycotts were used in three fundamental ways, “First, Chavez expanded the use of the boycott by appealing to consumers to participate in the pursuit of social justice…Second, although initially Chavez and a handful of union leaders started the boycott to occupy volunteers’ time between harvests, he and union leaders eventually came to regard the boycott with at least as much respect as they did strikes and marches….Third, the United Farm Workers pursued a strategy not available to most labor unions: the secondary boycott.” http://www.utne.com/politics/cesar-chavez-united-farm-workers-union-ze0z1301zwar.aspx?page=5#ixzz2eiscms4F

    Garcia contends that within these three innovations, that the road to victory for the UFWOC was forged. He argues convincingly that by shifting the goal of the farm workers from a specific labor dispute and into a social movement for farm worker dignity and social justice the UFWOC was able to rally sufficient support from U.S. Civil Society to bring the growers to the negotiation table. Garcia also notes that the “by any means necessary” approach to the boycott by volunteer cultural workers and organizers, allowed for a tremendous creativity on behalf of the campaigns, the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF -Originally Rebel Chicano Art Front) for example produced a tremendous amount of art for the boycott campaigns.

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    Don’t Eat Grapes. Designed for the United Farm Workers.

    This creativity was not limited to art, which varied depending on the norms of the region. In Los Angeles, great murals were created, in the bay area poster art was pioneered for the boycott and in Seattle, the human billboard was introduced as a boycott tactic.

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    UFW Solidarity, Queen Anne Safeway, 1969 WSFT Convention. Photo by Ross Rieder.

    According to Garcia, one of the most crucial innovations that was made possible precisely because of the exemption of farmworkers from the amendments made by Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 had to do with the ability to hold “secondary boycotts”, “In 1947 the Taft-Hartley Labor Act amended the National Labor Relations Act to restrict labor unions from running campaigns against companies that were not abusing workers but were selling products of companies that were. In 1959, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act strengthened the restriction against this practice, which was known as a secondary boycott.” (ibid)

    This is why it is possible for Familias Unidas por la Justicia to call for a boycott Sakuma Bros. Farm Berries and its major distributors, Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream, Driscoll’s Fresh Market Berries, and Yoplait yogurts at multiple grocers.

    HOW YOU CAN HELP:

    You have a unique opportunity to support farmworker families AND the work of Community to Community! Join or organize a boycott picket line in your own community. You can keep up to date on the Boycott at www.boycottsakumaberries.com. There you will find the contact numbers and addresses where you can call Sakuma Bros. Farms and Sakuma Berry distributors to let them know that you demand that the company settle with its berry pickers by signing a contract. Consider funding both Familias Unidas por la Justicia and Community to Community as farmworkers lead us towards a sustainable and equitable food system with dignity and respect!

    To support the workers directly, please make checks out to Familias Unidas por la Justicia and send to:

    Familias Unidas por la Justicia
    P.O. Box 1206,
    Burlington, WA 98233

    justicia para todos

    As this struggle continues, it is vital that the workers know they are supported by the community. Please send cards, notes of encouragement and of course financial support which is tax deductible.

    To support C2C directly for ongoing administrative support, leadership development, research, organizing support, networking, and media go to:

    www.foodjustice.org

    click on the “donate” button to the right of the screen or send checks made out to:

    Community to Community Development
    203 W. Holly Street, Ste. 317
    Bellingham, WA 98225.

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