- Farmworkers marching off the job last year in Burlington.
An epic struggle for farmworker justice continues to unfold in Seattle's backyard. Yesterday, a fledgling union of local farmworkers, whose members walked off the job last year in protest of racist taunts and low wages at Sakuma Brothers Farms last year, won another legal victory bolstering their right to both organize in defense of their labor rights—and to not be fired for doing so.
The multi-million dollar farm, which supplies strawberries to Haagen Dazs, has taken a hard line against the farmworkers, firing the leader of the union in 2013. And this year, Sakuma Brothers announcing plans to displace the striking workers with a more docile labor force—berry pickers imported from Mexico under the federal government's H2-A "guest worker" program. This spring, the farm effectively fired the hundreds of farmworkers who went on strike, sending them letters saying they wouldn't be rehired for the upcoming harvest season due to their "absences" last year—even though some of them have returned annually to the farm for work for years. (Many of them are indigenous Mexicans who are originally from Oaxaca, where grinding poverty compelled them to seek out better livelihoods elsewhere.)
But in a temporary restraining order handed down yesterday, Skagit Valley County Judge Susan Cook ordered the farm not to "interfere or retaliate" against the farmworkers attempts to organize and "to inform Familias Unidas por la Justicia members immediately that workers are not barred from employment due to absences during the 2013 strikes." Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice) is the name of their union.
(After the strikes last year, the farm tried to place security guards around the labor camps where farmworkers live, but workers found that intimidating and a judge agreed, ordering the farm not to interfere with their right to organize and withdraw the guards.)
The new ruling has implications for Sakmua Brothers Farm's application for H2-A guest workers, which is currently being evaluated at the federal level by the Department of Labor. On its application, the farm claimed that there have been no strikes or ongoing labor disputes at the farm—if there were, it would be prevented from importing workers under the provisions of the guest worker program.
Between the hunger strike by immigrant detainees at the corporate-run detention center in Tacoma where they're paid a couple dollars per day for prison labor and the campaign for farmworker dignity to our North, downtrodden immigrants are fighting back in a country that has long paid lip service to their importance, even as it has exploited them. Don't let this historical moment pass you by.