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Watsonville Brown Berets Keep Pressure on Driscoll’s

by Bradley Allen (bradley [at]
Solidarity with farmworkers in Washington state and Baja California leading the worldwide boycott of Driscoll’s berries.

[ Michael Garcia of the Watsonville Brown Berets and Stephanie Irene of Direct Action Monterey Network hold signs, "Boycott Driscoll's in Solidarity with San Quintín Farmworkers," at the Freedom Blvd. entrance to Safeway in Watsonville, California. July 2, 2016. ]

Watsonville Brown Berets Keep Pressure on Driscoll’s

The Watsonville Brown Berets are keeping the pressure on Driscoll's, the world's largest distributor of fresh berries, who are headquartered in Watsonville, California. On July 2, 2016, the Saturday before July 4th BBQs, the Brown Berets and other community members demonstrated in front of the Safeway on Freedom Blvd. in Watsonville to raise awareness and show solidarity with farmworkers in Washington state and Baja California leading the worldwide boycott of Driscoll's berries, including all products made with strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries sold by Driscoll's.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) was formed by farmworkers in Washington state in July 2013, they have over 450 members, hold elections, and democratically run business meetings. FUJ maintains a website, Boycott Sakuma Berries, which is the best resource online for information in English about the ongoing labor struggle.

FUJ explains the history of the boycott:

For almost three years now farmworker families at Sakuma Brothers Farm have been fighting for an end to systemic wage theft, poverty wages, hostile working conditions, and unattainable production standards. On July 11th 2013 they launched a strike when a worker, Frederico Lopez, was fired for asking for a higher wage when production standards were so high that even the fastest workers were making less than minimum wage. The strike led to the formation of a an independent farm worker union (Familias Unidas por la Justicia) and formal negotiations with the company management to resolve the many grievances workers brought forth.

However, after all agreements reached in those negotiations were broken by Sakuma management, and security guards were sent into the labor camps to intimidate the families living there the workers voted to endorse a public boycott of Sakuma Brothers berry farm and their main distributor Driscoll's berries until the company signs a union contract that ensures that agreements reached are legally binding.

Solidarity with Familias Unidas por la Justicia

Organizations in solidarity with Familias Unidas por la Justicia include a long list of labor unions, advocates for fair trade, food-justice organizations, retail markets, and schools.

Food Empowerment Project, a vegan food-justice organization that seeks to create a more just world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices, declared their support and wrote, "Respect the people who grow our food. Don't buy Driscoll's berries. Contact Sakuma Farms and tell them to negotiate a union contract!"

Slow Food USA announced their unwavering solidarity with FUJ on social media and in their June 2016 e-newsletter in which they write, "Slow Food USA respects and values the hands that feed us. This is why we stand in solidarity with Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Support their boycott of Driscoll’s Berries and other labels who ignore their role in building a food system that is truly good, clean and fair for all."

Slow Food USA has 150 chapters and 6,000 members across the United States, and is part of the global Slow Food network. Slow Food USA "gathers likely and unlikely allies to transform the way we produce, consume, and enjoy food."

On May 31, 2016, students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA voted overwhelmingly to endorse resolutions expressing support for freedom and equality for Palestinians and labor justice for migrant workers at Sakuma Bros.

On May 26, 2016, leading fair trade advocacy organization Fair World Project joined over thirty other organizations in signing a letter asking Driscoll’s to make good on its commitment to enforcing the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

At Sakuma Brothers Farm, a Washington farm that grows blueberries and blackberries for Driscoll's, management has refused to negotiate a contract with Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Rather than enforcing its own standards, Driscoll's has stated it cannot insist that Sakuma Brothers Farm sit down with the independent union.

Fair World Project has also sent a petition signed by nearly 10,000 consumers directly to Sakuma Brothers asking CEO Danny Weeden to sit down with farmworkers.

FUJ continues explaining the boycott on their webpage, cited above, called Why Boycott:

Sakuma has had injunctions placed on them by the Skagit Valley Court to rehire union members after they attempted to stop union members from getting their jobs back in the summer of 2014, and settled a class action lawsuit by paying workers 500,000 dollars in back wages rather than open their books to the courts. This summer, with a new CEO Danny Weeden steering the company, Sakuma has attempted to convince the public that they are paying workers as much as 27 dollars an hour and that every worker is earning at least ten dollars an hour.

However, the farmworkers who are currently employed went on a work stoppage at the beginning of July, end of July and again in mid August [2015] because production standards have been so high that hardly anybody could make any bonus pay. The workers’ who struggled to keep up were being verbally harassed by supervisors, earning less than 10 dollars an hour and threatened with being fired.

The families of Familias Unidas por la Justicia independent farm worker union want to settle this ongoing labor dispute and negotiate a legally binding union contract.


Struggle Continues for Living Wages and a Union Contract

On June 9, 2016, FUJ members and other farmworkers walked out of the Sakuma Bros Berry Farms after more than 120 workers demanded an increase of the $0.24 per-pound of strawberries that they were receiving. Workers were asking for an increase of their wage to $0.35 per pound of strawberries, along with the ongoing ask for a union contract.

In response to the direct action taken by the farmworkers, Sakuma Bros. Farms increased farmworkers’ per-pound rates for strawberries to $0.28 per pound—a 4-cent raise.

FUJ declared that the increase gained was not enough, and that their members will continue the fight for fair living wages along with the ongoing demand for a union contract.

"A walk out is the only way for Sakuma to listen and do what’s right, we would rather negotiate a union contract" said Jose Ramirez showing a handful of small sized strawberries to illustrate why it is difficult to pick more than 30 pounds per hour to reach the minimum wage.

"We have to take these actions to prove we are not lying" said Benito Lopez of Familas Unidas por la Justicia through an interpreter, "we want fair wages and better conditions not only for us but for everybody working these fields."

Familias Unidas por la Justicia and supporters are marching in Burlington, Washington on July 11 to mark the 4-year anniversary of FUJ's historic formation, and to celebrate the movement for farmworker justice.

Previous coverage of the boycott Driscoll's movement:

§Justicia para Todos. Boycott Driscoll's
by Bradley Allen
On a busy 4th of July weekend, Vivian and Katie hold signs in front of the Safeway in Watsonville, California advocating “Justice for All” and to “Boycott Driscoll’s.” July 2, 2016.
§Slow Food USA Endorses the Boycott of Driscoll’s Berries
by Bradley Allen
Slow Food USA endorses the boycott of Driscoll’s berries.
§Benito Lopez, Familas Unidas por la Justicia
by Bradley Allen
Photo by Xolotl Edgar Franx. June 9, 2016. “Queremos sueldos justos y mejorar las condiciones del trabajo, no nomas para nosotros pero para todos los que trabajan estos campos.” Translation: “We want fair wages and better conditions not only for us but for everybody working these fields.” -Benito Lopez, Familas Unidas por la Justicia.
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