News Oct 2, 2013 at 4:00 am

Workers at a Farm Outside Seattle Demand Better Conditions and Wages


"Sakuma Brothers' net sales last year were $6.4 million, a LexisNexis search reveals."

"They make like $6 million per year. What do you think?"

Gross profit = Net sales - Cost of goods sold. Without knowing what it cost to produce the $6.4 million in sales, it's impossible to know "if the farm owners can really afford to pay more."

If Ramon Torres didn't want to get fired, he shouldn't have beat his wife. Sakuma Farms security didn't call the police, his wife did. She's now in the common -- in domestic violence -- situation of having to defend her abusive spouse and downplay his actions.

Is it hard to believe that he in fact was attempting to intimidate his supervisor? He's a big guy who has been arrested for domestic battery.

I hope that farm workers in Washington can organize and achieve better working conditions and pay. That they work extremely hard, live in generally poor conditions, and are underpaid, is all inarguable.
@1 You didn't expect Cocksucking Correspondent Herz not to spin its "journalism" for the Stranger, did you?
Of course, with the federal government's e-verify system offline they can't really hire new, legal farm workers properly.
Yes, they can and need to pay their workers a living wage and show them respect. Thanks for following this, Ansel.
Nice piece Ansel. Keep it up.
Thanks for a well written and informative piece, Ansel. This one truly hits close to home. I'm amazed that Sakuma's business owners themselves are a family of migrant workers who once experienced this same unfair treatment when first settling here. Yet they turn their greenbacks on the welfare of their own employees now that they're making "record profits". What a shame.
When Sakuma's annual profits are $6.4 million a year, and they sell their berries to Haagen-Dazs, they can afford to pay their workers livable wages, and offer better working conditions.
Great story, brave workers, but one point: you wrote that these farmers may not be entitled to minimum wage - that is probably not true. Almost all agricultural workers in Washington State ARE entitled to earn the minimum wage. Refer to the Department of Labor and Industries homepage:…

the only exceptions are for agricultural workers that meet ALL of the following requirements:

"1. The individual is employed as a hand-harvest laborer; and
2. The individual is paid on a piece rate basis in an operation where such payment is customary; and
3. The individual is a permanent resident and commutes daily from his or her own residence to the farm; and
4. The individual has been employed in agriculture less than 13 weeks in the preceding calendar year."

While most of these may apply - you mentioned that the workers at this farm live in a farm labor camp at the farm, not their own private residences - so the third point would not be true, therefore they should be paid minimum wage. Workers under the age of 16 can be paid 85% of the minimum wage, but that would still be more than the $45 that the teen in the story is reported to have made.
This article starts off with the example of Luis, a 15-year-old who was working at Sakuma and not making minimum wage.....does the author of this article realize that there is a different minimum wage for 14 and 15-year-olds? According to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries it is 85 % of the minimum pay rate for adults. As Washington's minumum wage is now at $9.19 that would be $7.81 per hour for someone Luis' age. If Luis was making this 8 hours per day he would be grossing $62.48 per day. After taxes, this would become about $51.43 per day Net. So he IS certainly "making around $45 a day" as he claims. But, there is no illegal treatment in that. If he says he should be "making closer to $80" that would mean he expects to earn the minimum wage for adults. What exactly was Luis being paid per hour? Would the journalist here care to show some evidence to support his central anecdote and show that he, having done some research, understands the distinct minimum wage laws and that they have definitely been broken or that there has been definite wrongdoing? I would love some substance rather than hearsay and vague statements that rely on cliches. (…)

Also, Lois Ko 'joined the boycott almost immediately' after being harassed, called names, intimidated and sufficiently threatened by the protestors in front of her shop. I was present at that event and was extremely disappointed in the conduct I witnessed. I can only go away from that experience with the very eery feeling in my gut that this labor dispute is indeed being organized and prolonged by narcissistic thrill-seekers of a certain wing of protest culture who have no real interest in a resolution or the ultimate good of the people they say they represent. I watched in horror as most of them left more upset that Lois had agreed to their demands and signed their contract--they wanted to keep fighting. As they walked away from their victory they shouted, "We're going to Molly Moons!" ...I have never seen a group have less grace or act less decently. I was brought up by a mother who was active in her union and I was part of protests and pickets from a young age--I was taught to build bridges and work for the big picture. What I saw that day would make no true labor advocate proud.

I hope the very best for the workers who are being convinced to leave the negotiating table with Sakuma management. I worry about them very much right now.
I also hope for journalists with stronger intellectual consciences who will start covering this story so we can get to the true core of the matter and hopefully find the way to resolve it in the best interest of all involved.
How many of the farm workers have signed United Farm Workers preference cards? If they don't want a union and a contract then why should I care?
@9: Good question: Well, farm workers are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, the main federal law that protects union organizing activity. That might have something to do with it.

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