Washington

Union says it has reached first contract deal with Sakuma berry farms

Employees pick strawberries on Steve Sakuma’s farm outside of Burlington, Wash. on a hot morning in mid-July 2011. Sakuma estimated that 80 percent of his workers are illegal immigrants.
Employees pick strawberries on Steve Sakuma’s farm outside of Burlington, Wash. on a hot morning in mid-July 2011. Sakuma estimated that 80 percent of his workers are illegal immigrants. MCT

Just in time for the strawberry harvest, leaders of a union representing hundreds of farmworkers say they have reached a tentative contract agreement with Sakuma Brothers Farms in Skagit County.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), which represents about 500 workers, announced the deal Sunday afternoon, saying it had been approved by negotiators Saturday evening.

It’s the first such contract since the workers voted to unionize in September.

Union President Ramon Torres, who helped negotiate the agreement, said through an interpreter he did not want to reveal specific terms before informing union members. But he called it a good deal for berry pickers.

“These are some of the best wages that farmworkers have in the state of Washington,” Torres said.

He said the proposed two-year contract also would protect workers from unjust firings and lays groundwork for establishment of a medical plan in the near future.

An emailed statement from a Sakuma spokesman said the proposed contract – the product of months of negotiations – “creates a mutually beneficial partnership that will be successful for years to come.”

If ratified, the contract could mark a new chapter in the relationship between the workers and Sakuma, which has faced years of boycotts, lawsuits and walkouts over wages and working conditions.

In 2014, the company agreed to pay $850,000 in a wage-and-hour settlement with workers who claimed they’d been underpaid and denied breaks.

The farmworkers represented by FUJ include indigenous Mixteco and Trique Mexicans who migrate each year from California.

Workers will vote on the contract proposal this week, with strawberry-picking season set to begin. “The union and the company are both looking forward to this new partnership, working together for a successful season,” Torres said.

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