A new farm worker union is born
(These are excerpts of a larger article on this historic victory, that you can find in full in our website, tribunodelpueblo.org).
Bob’s Burgers and Brew, a hamburger joint at the Cook Road freeway exit on Interstate 5, about two hours north of Seattle, doesn’t look like a place where Pacific Northwest farm workers can change their lives, much less make some history. But on June 16, a half-dozen men in work clothes pulled tables together in Bob’s outdoor seating area. Danny Weeden, general manager of Sakuma Brothers Farms, then joined them.
After exchanging polite greetings, Weeden opened four folders and handed around copies of a labor contract that had taken 16 sessions of negotiations to hammer out. As the signature pages were passed down the tables, each person signed. Weeden collected his copy and drove off; the workers remained long enough to cheer and take pictures with their fists in the air. Then they too left.
It was a quiet end to four years of strikes and boycotts, in which these workers had organized the first new farm-worker union in the United States in a quarter-century-Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ).
Members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia come originally from towns in Oaxaca and southern Mexico where people speak indigenous languages that were centuries old when the Spanish colonized the Americas.
“We are part of a movement of indigenous people,” says Felimon Pineda, FUJ vice president. An immigrant from Jicaral Cocoyan de las Flores in Oaxaca, he says organizing the union is part of a fight against the discrimination indigenous people face in both Mexico and the United States: “Sometimes people see us as being very low. They think we have no rights. They’re wrong. The right to be human is the same.”
According to Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community2Community, an advocacy organization that helped the workers organize, “Indigenous culture plays a huge role, especially people’s collective decision-making process. The strong bonds of culture and language give the union a lot of its strength.”
Sakuma Brothers Farms hires about 450 workers every year to pick its strawberries and blueberries from June through October, in its fields in Burlington and Mt. Vernon, WA. About half live in the local area, and half come north for the picking season from Santa Maria, Madera, Livingston, and other farm-worker towns in California. The migrants from the south live in the company’s labor camps for the duration of the work.
FUJ members’ see their union as part of a larger community, and while its members are immigrants, they are not just temporary residents. Over the past four years, Guillen especially has fought the stereotype of immigrant farm workers as transient, unskilled labor. “We’ve always felt that we are invisible people. We’re treated as disposable, and it’s time to end that,” she asserts. “We’re human beings and we’re part of the community.”
(The American Prospect, June 26, 2017 – http://prospect.org/article/new-farm-worker-union-born)