Raul Merino
  • Star Murray
  • Raul Merino
The harvest season may be over, but the battle over farmworker wages and rights an hour north of Seattle continues to escalate. In a class action lawsuit on behalf of 400 farmworkers, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle, 26-year-old berry picker Raul Merino charges that Sakuma Brothers Farms "systematically deprived field workers of their rest breaks." He says the farm also prevented workers from checking whether they were being underpaid by failing to provide them with documentation of hours worked, as required under federal law.

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“We just received a copy of the lawsuit and are currently reviewing it," Sakuma Brothers Farms spokesman John Segale tells me. "We believe the claims have no merit and look forward to having this resolved in court.”

"With our low wages, it is especially hard to receive less than we are owed,” says Merino in a press release sent out by an attorney from Columbia Legal Services. The suit also charges that the farm's management agreed to set wages based on a "test pick" of blueberry fields, but reneged, echoing claims made by strike leader Raul Torres in September when workers walked off the job. Last week, I reported that the farm is under investigation by the Department of Labor for allegedly using guest workers during a labor dispute, a possible violation of the federal H-2A guest worker program's rules.