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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 12 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 37
Berry boycott hits Broadway and Pike - Farm workers ask for support from local shoppers
Section One
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Berry boycott hits Broadway and Pike - Farm workers ask for support from local shoppers

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Thirty local supporters of Skagit Valley farmworkers gathered in front of the QFC at Broadway and E. Pike St. September 10, to dramatize a boycott of Sakuma Brothers Farms.

Sakuma specializes in berries, which it markets under its own name, and under the Driscoll's trademark. They also supply berries to Haagen Dazs ice cream.

According to Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice, or FUJ), the union Sakuma's workers formed to protect their interests, Sakuma Brothers is guilty of systematic wage theft, particularly from young workers, and racially biased harassment of their workers - most of them Latino immigrants.

Sakuma workers also say the employer has retaliated for their unionization drive by firing activists, expelling them from company-provided housing, and sending private security forces into workers' camps, all in violation of Washington state labor law.

Although Skagit County judge Susan Cook ordered Sakuma Brothers to rehire fired workers in May, and to provide housing for its workers and their families in a separate July ruling, the farmworkers' union says the employer continues its unfair labor practices.

Workers began their boycott of Sakuma berries to put pressure on the company to recognize the union and come to a fair settlement of their complaints. They are not asking for shoppers to boycott QFC or other stores, they said, just to stop buying the berries.

Elena Perez of UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) Local 21, the union that represents workers at QFC and other local markets, said her union's members support the farmworkers.

'It's a workers rights issue,' Perez told SGN. 'We're in solidarity with our fellow union members. Some of our [UFCW] members have passed out flyers for the boycott.

'QFC is owned by Kroger, which also owns Fred Meyers - it's a huge national chain - but we've reached out to locally owned stores to see if they carry Sakuma berries. We know that Madison Market/Central Co-op and Haggen's do not carry those products.'

For Jeff Johnson, now President of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), the current boycott reminds him of his early days as a WSLC staffer.

'Very soon after I was hired [by the WSLC] I was in a meeting with [United Farm Workers leader] Tomas Villanueva, and I was assigned to work with the farmworkers,' Johnson remembers.

'We've made a lot of progress for farmworkers since the mid-'80s - now they get workers' compensation, they get unemployment insurance, they get minimum wage, we have health and safety standards - but there's still a lot of work to do.'

Johnson said his organization, which represents 600 union locals and some 400,000 workers, would support FUJ and the berry boycott.

Appropriately, members of the Seattle Labor Chorus sang 'Solidarity Forever' and other labor standards as the protesters handed out flyers explaining the boycott to QFC shoppers.

Members of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA) helped flyer passers by.

'We want everyone treated with dignity and respect,' PSARA president Robby Stern told SGN. 'That doesn't just apply to seniors. Everyone!'

Also on hand were supporters of Socialist Alternative legislative candidate Jess Spear. Spear herself was at another demonstration in support of fast food workers, they said, but she supports Sakuma Brothers workers and would speak out on their behalf, if elected to office.

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