Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 37° Partly Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Farmworker union approves contract with Sakuma Bros.

Richard Sakuma picks tea leaves off  one of several plant clones being tested by Sakuma Bros Farms. Skagit County’s first farmworker union approved a union contract with Sakima Bros. berry pickers on Thursday, June 15, 2017. (Scott Terrell / AP)
Richard Sakuma picks tea leaves off one of several plant clones being tested by Sakuma Bros Farms. Skagit County’s first farmworker union approved a union contract with Sakima Bros. berry pickers on Thursday, June 15, 2017. (Scott Terrell / AP)
By Brandon Stone Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.)

Familias Unidas por la Justicia, Skagit County’s first and only farmworker union, approved its union 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,” Familias President Ramon Torres said 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.

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.

Danny Weeden, CEO of Sakuma, called the contract a positive step that formalizes the management practices he believes the farm already employs.

“This won’t really change the way we manage,” he told the Skagit Valley Herald on Friday. “There’s nothing negative here.”

Torres 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.

After spending months negotiating, Weeden said he feels there is a mutual understanding of the problems both sides are facing.

“Farming today is a very difficult business,” he said. “Quite honestly, we’ve been struggling.”

With the promise of an end to walkouts and strikes, Weeden said the contract will hopefully lead to higher efficiency.

“When all that’s solved and everyone’s focused on working, then this could work,” 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 June 10.

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 union dues Thursday, saying that discussion will be part of a meeting in July to finalize the union constitution.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.