Over the winter, nearly 10,000 concerned consumers wrote to Driscoll’s on behalf of farmworkers at Sakuma Brother’s farm in Washington. At the start of the growing season, over 6,000 concerned consumers wrote directly to Sakuma CEO Danny Weeden to ask him to sit down with Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), the independent union at Sakuma, and negotiate a fair contract.
The growing season is now coming to a close and farmworkers never got a contract. They staged repeated walkouts over the course of the season to protest unfair production quotas and low pay.
For the workers at Sakuma Brothers, a fairly negotiated contract has been a key component of their demands. Sakuma met some of their demands this year (eliminating the security at the housing and hiring back all workers who wanted jobs regardless of union association), but without a contract, workers are still vulnerable. They are vulnerable to the immediacy of fluctuating wages and production demands that caused them to walk off the job several times this year, but they are vulnerable in a larger sense too, because farmworkers are not protected by basic laws that protect most workers. For example, only in California are farmworkers rights to collective bargaining fully recognized, which also explains how Sakuma Brothers has gotten away with ignoring FUJ’s requests to negotiate. Farmworkers are also not entitled to overtime pay and in some cases may not receive minimum wage.
To truly protect farmworkers in the fields, the laws will need to be changed. As farmworker justice rises to the consciousness of the public, the political will to change laws may follow. Just this week the EPA announced it will be improving Worker Protection Standard for the first time in over two decades. These improvements will go a long way to reducing the significant risk pesticide exposure poses to farmworkers. EPA is doing this because, “farmworkers deserve the same protection from hazards as workers in other professions have had for decades.”
Improving labor laws under the same justification will not eliminate the need for farmworkers to negotiate fair contracts with their employers, but rather provide a better framework for this to happen. If farmworkers continue to demand a voice on the farm as they have at Sakuma Brothers and farmworkers and their advocates continue to push for federal protectionss as they have with the Worker Protection Standard, we may finally get to a place where farmworkers are treated with the dignity they deserve.