|Farmworkers listen to explanation of agreement reached with owner of Sakuma Bros. Farms that granted wage increase and other gains July 25 after workers organized two walkouts.|
The first walkout started July 12, after worker Federico Lopez was fired for challenging the piece rate. Workers, who don’t belong to any established union, ended the strike after winning Lopez’s reinstatement and the transfer of what they described as an abusive foreman. Workers walked out again July 22 in response to the company’s refusal to implement pay raises and other demands.
The walkouts took place when the blueberry harvest was in full swing. Nearly all the workers are indigenous Mixteca and Trique people, from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Most return to work year after year at Sakuma Farms, a major operator in the berry-growing and processing industry in this agricultural region north of Seattle.
On July 25 workers gathered in one of the labor camps to hear a report on negotiations from strike committee president Ramón Torres. The committee had done a test-pick on a field to be harvested the next day, Torres said, and negotiated a new rate with the grower. The agreed-upon rate, 37 cents a pound, represented a 23 percent raise over what the company had been paying, and the grower had agreed to negotiate a rate for other fields after company and workers’ representatives did further test-picks.
The rate makes it possible to make $12 or more an hour, Torres said, and workers will have the right to know the company-recorded weights for their picks.
Torres said they were still meeting on other demands. Pickers are concerned about losing their jobs when the company begins bringing in 160 contract workers from Mexico in August, under the federal government’s H-2A temporary “guest worker” program. The company says it needs more workers to avoid a repeat of last year’s harvest, when 15 acres of blackberries rotted in the fields.
“Now we are working again, though everything isn’t fixed,” said Torres. “Something very important is that youths under 16 years just got a check for money that wasn’t paid for time they had worked.” He explained that the company is beginning to replace old, bedbug-infested mattresses in the workers’ housing, one of the strikers’ demands aimed at improving their living conditions. The farmworkers want to keep negotiating, he said, “and so does the boss, and that’s good.”
On the Picket Line
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