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Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Celebrating Farmworker Victories, Organizing for Ongoing Struggles

Jessica Ramirez marches for farmworkers' rights in Burlington, Washington.
Jessica Ramirez marches for farmworkers' rights in Burlington, Washington.

August 4, 2017

On June 19, 2017, the first day of the summer strawberry harvest, farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farm in the Skagit Valley began picking berries in the early morning fog. As they did so, they were making history. After four years of struggle that grew from local walk-outs and strikes to a national boycott against the world’s largest berry supplier, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), the first indigenous-led farmworkers’ union in the United States, had won.

Three days before the start of the harvest, members of FUJ voted overwhelmingly to approve a collective bargaining agreement with Sakuma Brothers Farm. The agreement guarantees benefits including an average $15 dollar per hour wage, just cause and non-discrimination protections, grievance procedures, and union representatives in the fields.

A few weeks later, FUJ members and their supporters gathered in Mount Vernon for a celebratory barbecue. One of the attendees was Jessica Ramirez, a University of Washington alumna who served as FUJ’s volunteer national boycott coordinator starting in 2015. Ramirez helped organize actions which put pressure on berry buyers, including Driscoll’s, Häagen-Dazs, and the UW itself, to stop buying berries sourced from Sakuma Brothers Farm.

Please watch and share our video highlighting Jessica Ramirez’s organizing:

Abe Osheroff would no doubt also celebrate FUJ’s historic victory. A lifelong activist for workers’ rights and social justice, Abe died in 2008, leaving behind a rich legacy that includes the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund for Students, a unique endowment at the UW Center for Human Rights. The fund honors and supports students who engage in hands-on human rights projects to promote social change through direct action.

Jessica Ramirez applied to the fund in 2015, while in her final year at the University of Washington. With support from the Osheroff-Clark Fund, Jessica was able to deepen her commitment to supporting the FUJ workers’ struggle, and to cover some of the practical, day-to-day expenses of organizing, purchasing material for banners, paint for picket signs, and gas for travel from Seattle to Skagit. Abe Osheroff, who worked as a labor organizer alongside coal miners in Pennsylvania and Ohio after graduating from college in 1915, would know how essential such supplies are for a successful campaign.

A recent tragedy highlights ongoing labor rights concerns on Washington state berry farms. On the morning of Sunday, August 6, Honesto Silva Ibarra died several days after collapsing in the fields at Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, where he was working on a temporary H-2A visa. Fellow farmworkers say that he had complained of headaches for multiple days but was sent back to work in sweltering conditions. FUJ and Bellingham-based food and farmworker justice organization Community to Community Development are now raising funds and collecting supplies to support dozens of workers who were fired after walking off the fields in protest, and who are now living in an encampment.

Jessica Ramirez continues to work for justice as Program Coordinator for Front and Centered, a statewide coalition of organizations and groups rooted in communities of color and people with lower incomes on the front-lines of economic and environmental change. She is also active in many social justice projects working towards collective liberation.

The UW Center for Human Rights is proud to support student leaders like Jessica Ramirez, and to honor the legacy of Abe Osheroff and his partner, Gunnel Clark, through the Osheroff-Clark Fund for Students.