berry pickers on strike
5:22 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Berry Pickers on Strike Again in Burlington

For the second time this month, about 200 berry pickers at a Skagit Valley farm have walked off the job.

The workers are striking over pay for the boxes of blueberries and strawberries they harvest at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington. Many of those berries are sold to Haagen-Dazs for ice cream. The workers in question have been earning $3.50 per a flat of blueberries, which is about 12 pints. They say they can’t pick them fast enough to earn a fair wage.

“Basically, what the workers are contending is that at the low wages that they’re being offered, they are not being able to meet the state’s minimum-wage requirement,” said Tomas Madrigal with Community to Community, the farm workers’ advocacy group.

One worker was allegedly fired for complaining about it. So 200 of his colleagues staged a six-day work stoppage earlier this month. After he was reinstated, they agreed to return to work during negotiations.

But Madrigal says the workers decided to walk off the job again Monday when they learned that crews in another field were earning about $5 more per flat.

“And so they felt that was an extreme difference, and decided they would not work for $3.50 a flat,” Madrigal said.

The workers are mostly indigenous Mexicans who come to Washington from California during the picking season. They say they need to earn at least $6 a flat—nearly twice the current wage. They have a long list of additional concerns about their working conditions.

The company, which says the wage demands are too much, has brought in third-party negotiators. The workers say they want to negotiate directly with their employer.