At the height of strawberry season, several dozen farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, an hour north of Seattle, walked off the job last week to demand higher wages. Dozens of other farmworkers continued picking in the strawberry fields (exact numbers are difficult to determine). The Skagit Valley Herald reports:
Familias Unidas has been urging consumers to boycott Sakuma Brothers Farms since 2013, when workers began striking over what they said were unfair wages, substandard housing, and intimidation by supervisors.
Sakuma Bros. Farms increased farmworkers’ per-pound rates for strawberries after Thursday’s walkout, but some workers are calling for more.
Workers are now earning 28 cents per pound—a 4-cent raise, according to a news release from Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a labor group representing the workers.
Farm spokesperson Roger Van Oosten told me the company is open to negotiating with the group and offers among the highest per-pound wage rates for strawberry pickers in Washington State. He said this season's bountiful crop means workers are making an average of $16 per hour. "It's market driven," he said. "We negotiate [the rate] before we go out [to the fields]." At 28 cents a pound, a worker would hit $15 after picking 53 pounds of berries.
Familias Unidas, however, is calling for a labor contract to guarantee a $15 minimum wage and sick leave. This would represent a wholesale change from prevailing working conditions for farmworkers, which include exemptions from child labor rules. "We want fair wages and better conditions not only for us but for everybody working these fields," said Benito Lopez, according to statement from the group.
This post has been updated.