In historic vote, Sakuma farmworkers unionize

After years of boycotts, strikes and protests, migrant workers at a major Skagit County farm have voted to unionize.

As workers harvested the late blueberry crops at Sakuma Brothers Farm near Burlington, they hoped to soon be reaping the benefits of a first ever union contract.

"We're very happy," said union leader Ramon Torres, through an interpreter. "This is another step for farm workers to regain our dignity."

On Monday, 77 percent of 260 berry pickers at Sakuma Brothers voted to unionize. The move followed three years of protests, strikes and boycotts at the farm that have caught national attention. Torres began organizing Familias Unidas por la Justicia when, he said, workers were unjustly fired.

That will be among the top priorities at the bargaining table.

“First of all, we want to have a system where we can help decide how the discipline process happens,” said Torres.

According to the company, Sakuma raised wages since the boycotts began to an average of about $17 an hour. Protests also pushed the farm to upgrade its housing camps. At one point, walkouts forced the farm to open its fields for people to pick berries for free, lest they rot on the vine.

New Sakuma CEO Danny Weedin said recognizing the union will bring more stability to the farm’s workforce and customers.

“At the end of the day, our employees are valued, and appreciated,” he said. “Nothing happens on this farm without our employees.”

Familias Unidas is the first union ever led by migrant workers in Washington. Torres hopes this movement has planted the seeds for others to take root across the country.

“This is a historic moment,” said Torres. “We hope it gets bigger.”

Copyright 2016 KING


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