Jessica Ramirez, a recent graduate in American Ethnic Studies, spent the last several months coordinating with Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), an independent farmworkers union made up of migrant farm workers from the Skagit Valley (an hour north of Seattle). In her application for funding from the Osheroff-Clark Fund, Jessica wrote: “In 2013, the farm workers picking berries for Sakuma Brothers Farm, Inc. went on strike due to the firing of a fellow worker who approached the foreman for a raise. While on strike, the workers made a list of demands and grievances that addressed the conditions of working on the farm and the dire living conditions, wage theft, and harassment. After negotiations with the Sakuma Brothers Farm broke down, the workers organized a boycott of Sakuma berries and its major source-contracts which include Driscoll’s and Häagen-Dazs, the two largest buyers of Sakuma berries.” Six months into her fellowship, Jessica provides the following update:
Since I joined the boycott coordination team in January 2015 a lot has happened, from the local stage to the national level. In March, we started a campaign with UW to stop selling Driscoll’s berries at campus retail spots. With the support of student organizations UW became the first retailer in the Seattle area to stop buying and selling Driscoll’s berries. On May 1, 2015 we held a farm worker rally at Casa Latina where we gathered 200 supporters from area colleges and universities and the labor and immigrant rights movements to support Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ). It was a beautiful day where we joined the March for Labor and Immigrant Rights. The march led us to downtown where a rally was held and we heard from various activists, including the president of FUJ, Ramon Torres. Ramon delivered a compelling speech on why people in the City of Seattle should also boycott Driscoll’s and join FUJ’s fight for a union contract. On July 11, 2015, farm workers from FUJ and their supporters marched from Burlington, WA to Sakuma Brothers Farm. This annual march brought supporters new and old from all over the country, including renowned journalist and photographer, David Bacon and a fantastic group of faith leaders from the National Farmworker Ministry, who unanimously voted to endorse the boycott.
This summer a boycott committee formed which is comprised of a diverse group from faith, climate, food justice, and labor communities. As a committee, we have been busy at Costco, PCC, and Whole Foods holding weekly informational pickets whose goal is to pressure these retailers, by way of the consumer, to drop Driscoll’s berries from their shelves.
After graduating from UW this past spring, I have worked closely with FUJ and Community to Community—the organization that administratively supports FUJ—to grow the boycott to a national level. We now have campaigns to boycott Driscoll’s throughout the United States; from Detroit, to Kansas City, and from Austin to several cities along the west coast. While we were expanding the boycott, farm workers from FUJ went on four work stoppages this summer in a fight to negotiate and renegotiate the outrageously complicated piece-rate pay structure at the farm. In a powerful and courageous display of solidarity, farm workers from a neighboring farm owned by Driscoll’s (Valley Pride) also walked out.
This summer also saw a victory in the form of a ruling from the Washington State Supreme Court. Due to the nature of the Sakuma Brothers Farm piece-rate pay structure at the time a class action suit was filed in 2013, ten minute rest breaks mandated by Washington State law were essentially unpaid. In 2014, Sakuma Brothers Farm, Inc. settled the lawsuit and reformed their piece-rate pay structure. Despite the settlement, the Washington State Supreme Court still issued a ruling on the matter of paid breaks. The Court found that in the context of piece-rate wage structures, paid rest breaks must be paid separately from the piece-rate scale. Furthermore, paid break times may not be paid at a lower rate than working time. Despite this legal victory, and a few others that were obtained via the courts, farm workers at Sakuma Brothers Farm have not been able secure a signed union contract between FUJ and Sakuma Brothers Farm—but they continue to work towards this goal.
For the remainder of the year, the Seattle Boycott Committee would like to see our supporters challenge PCC to meet the demands of FUJ. PCC holds high standards for the products they sell at their stores, but what they have yet to do is apply these same values to the labor dispute just an hour north of their headquarters.