Washington

Skagit County farmworkers union approves contract with Sakuma Bros.

Ramon Torres, with his hand raised at center, talks with dozens of fellow migrant workers employed by Sakuma Brothers Farms at worker housing in the Skagit Valley in 2013. Torres is president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Skagit County’s first and only farmworker union.
Ramon Torres, with his hand raised at center, talks with dozens of fellow migrant workers employed by Sakuma Brothers Farms at worker housing in the Skagit Valley in 2013. Torres is president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Skagit County’s first and only farmworker union. Seattle Times

BURLINGTON Skagit County’s first and only farmworkers union approved a contract Thursday night with Sakuma Bros. Farms berry pickers.

Sixty-six workers voted, with 48 voting to accept the contract.

“From today on, we have a contract,” said Ramon Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, through an interpreter. “We have a clear path forward … to just wages.”

The contract, as explained by Torres, guarantees workers a minimum wage of $12 an hour for work in the fields, but will target an average wage of $15 an hour.

The problem was the folks at the bottom, who struggle to make it. This at least makes sure they make $12 an hour.

Jason Holland, volunteer contract negotiator for Familias Unidas por la Justicia

As before, an individual’s wage will be based on how much they pick, but the per-pound rate will be adjusted depending on the average pick rate of workers, he said.

“Now workers won’t have to kill themselves to make $15 (per hour),” Torres said.

He said the pay scale struck a balance between what workers wanted and how much Sakuma could realistically pay.

“If we all make $20, $30, $40 an hour, Sakuma won’t have anything to pay us with,” he said.

Jason Holland, Familias’ volunteer contract negotiator, said the contract generally leaves the fastest pickers and highest earners alone.

“The problem was the folks at the bottom, who struggle to make it,” he said. “This at least makes sure they make $12 an hour.”

The members voted in September to allow Familias to negotiate the contract with Sakuma, which was finalized late Saturday.

The contract also lays out a formalized process for conflict resolution, something the workers have never had before.

“It’s going to be harder to fire people,” Torres said. “They can’t do it just like that.”

Torres did not discuss dues Thursday, saying that discussion will be part of a meeting in July to finalize the union constitution.

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