After nearly three years of marches, walkouts, lawsuits, and pickets urging a boycott, farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, Washington voted in a landslide on Monday to join a union.
"This is a historic moment," said Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) organizer Maru Mora Villalpando. "We have the only indigenous-farmworker-led union in Washington state."
The vote was 192 to 55, according to Familias, the union. Sakuma farms spokesperson Roger van Oosten said the vote was 195 to 58 and 115 eligible workers abstained.
"Sakuma now looks forward to a productive negotiation of a contract with FUJ for our employees," van Oosten said.
Familias has demanded a contract guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage and sick leave.
The Stranger has covered the unionization campaign since it began back in the summer of 2013. Workers—many of whom are indigenous Mexicans—said they were tired of substandard housing, low wages, backbreaking conditions in the fields, and dehumanizing slurs hurled at them by supervisors.
They called on consumers and stores to boycott Driscoll's and Häagen-Dazs, two major buyers of the farm's strawberries and raspberries.
As the campaign got underway, the farm reacted by firing charismatic and outspoken workers (management claimed the workers violated anti-violence and intimidation policies), shipping in and out seasonal guest workers shipped from Mexico, and stationing security guards around the farm-provided labor camps where workers lived. "There is nothing to negotiate," said a farm spokesperson in 2013. He said the union campaign was being driven by outside agitators. The farm angrily accused us of reporting "fictions."
In 2014, a judge ordered the farm to stop retaliating against workers for union activity. Another court order removed the security guards, citing the "chilling effect" of their deployment around the labor camps.
The boycott didn't let up, with picketers targeting grocery stores wherever Driscoll's berries were sold up and down the West coast. Workers staged walkouts this summer. Fusion produced a video about the campaign in August which racked up 1.8 million views:
Under new CEO Dan Weeden, Sakuma Brothers Farms struck a more conciliatory posture this year, agreeing in July enter negotiations with Familias. Weeden was brought in to "keep the farm sustainable... He's been looking for a long time to find a way to do it," van Oosten said.
Farmworkers, their families, and union activists celebrated last night with a cookout, cake and music. "We're just happy that we won," said one worker. "Next, get a contract and talk to the boss."