Farmworkers marching off the job in Burlington.
  • Farmworkers marching off the job in Burlington.

In a long post on its website today titled "Facts are the Stranger in Newspaper’s Fiction," Sakuma Brothers Farms responds to my reporting in this week's paper on the farmworker strike and calls for a boycott.

If you read my story and their response to my story side by side, you notice that, besides some random ad hominem attacks on The Stranger's credibility, at several points the farm mischaracterizes my reporting entirely. For example, their response says:

The most important fact ignored by the writer is that the real target of the opposition is not Sakuma Brothers Farms but the H-2A Guest Worker Program.

I did not ignore the guest worker program issue. In fact, I let the farm's spokesperson explain his view that the real issue here is opposition to the guest worker program. As I wrote:

According to [Sakuma spokesperson John] Segale, "The cause for this labor unrest is not due to our treatment of our workers, many of whom have been with us for over 10 years, but their opposition to the federal guest worker program." He says, "Labor activists—most from outside our community—came in and convinced some of our employees to go on strike to help bring attention to the activists' opposition to the guest worker program."

In other cases, the Sakuma response takes sentence fragments from my reporting out of context. For example, the wife of one of the farmworkers recently fired told me that she believes "security guys" hired by Sakuma were following her around after her husband was fired. According to the Sakuma response:

The Stranger: says “security guys” hired by the farm since the strike began following her around.

No. The Stranger did not say that. She said that—that was her allegation. From my piece:

Deanna Torres says "security guys" hired by the farm since the strike began following her around.

For what it's worth, as I reported, on September 25, a Skagit County judge handed down a temporary restraining order barring the security personnel from the labor camps because the judge believed the presence of the security personnel was infringing on the farmworkers by chilling the exercise of their rights to full freedom of association and self-organization.

As for the allegation in the beginning of my piece about underage workers being paid less than minimum wage earlier this summer, I never got a response when I asked the farm if that was true. But it was true, according to Sakuma's response, and it was a mistake that the farm has since corrected. In the interest of letting them give their side of the story, here's Sakuma's full explanation of how minors were being paid less than minimum wage earlier this summer:

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We did have a payroll glitch early this summer which was outside of our control. But, it was corrected immediately and those employees were paid their full amounts. We use ADS (DataTracK), which is well-known for its highly-reputable electronic data tracking. We download the data from our in-field electronic scanners and this combined with registration data (name, date of birth, address, etc.) is then sent to ADP who cuts the check. ADP’s payroll program takes care of all aspects of payroll including the proper withholding and related deductions. ADS had a programming problem when they transitioned payroll calculations from 2012 to 2013 which impacted a very small group of workers who were also minors. Due the glitch, these workers were treated as “exempt” from minimum wage. As soon as Sakuma Brothers Farms discovered the problem, we manually calculated the earnings of every affected employee and they were paid the full amount earned. ADS made the programming correction and the system has worked fine since then.

Again, my piece is here and Sakuma's full response is here. Ryan Sakuma, the farm's president, also has an open letter in a full page ad in the Skagit Valley Herald today.