Sakuma farmworkers vote to join Familias!

Article in The Stand by Jeff Johnson

At 4:30 September 12th, the nervous anticipation was so thick you could cut it with a knife, as 150 workers and community members waited in the parking lot of the United Steelworkers Local 12-591for the results of the historic union vote by members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

An agreement had been struck between the union and Sakuma Brothers Farms to hold a union recognition election on September 12 between noon and 5:30 pm at one of Sakuma’s properties on Benson Road in Bow, WA. 377 workers were eligble to vote for union representation.

The vote came in at 195 votes yes, 58 votes no, 3 disqulaified votes and 4 unresolved challenged votes.

After four years of organizing, winning the hearts and minds of the labor movement and the community, and a boycott of Sakuma, Driscoll, and Hahagen Das, Familias Unidas can now begin bargaining a contract with Sakuma Brothers. Si Se Puede!

But of course there was drama till the end. When a small delegation from the union showed up at the polling place to observe the vote count, the operations manager for Sakuma Brothers turned red in the face and refused to allow the vote count to take place as long as President Ramon Torres was on the property.

The solution. We adjourned to the parking lot of Allen Elementary School – home of the Vikings. The vote count was conducted by Richard Ahearn, former Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board, on the tailgate of State Senator John McCoy’s truck. The irony of where the votes were tallied was hard to miss – the majority of students at the elementary school are Latino/Hispanic, Senator McCoy has been a fierce advocate for these workers, and this victory is as much a public victory as a union victory.

During the count, CEO of Sakuma Brothers Farms, Danny Wheeden, showed up. He didn’t need to show up. I thought that this was a class act. While reading his biography I found this quote about him, “ Know your values and don’t compromise them, act courageously and stand firm for the things that matter, and in adversity keep fighting — persevere — be faithful and don’t quit.” Well this same quote aptly applies to Familias Unidas.

The next stage of the process is  negotiating a contract. The memorandum of agreement negotiated by labor attorney Kathy Barnard has a date certain for the conclusion of bargaining after which if an agreement isn’t reached, the offers will be submitted to arbitration, baseball style – the arbiter chooses one proposal to prevail. Jason Holland, labor attorney with WPEA, UFCW 365, will help with the negotiations.

While we are a ways off from a contract, it is time to celebrate the victory to date and to recognize the justice prevailed yesterday. And we will continue the struggle so that justice prevails tomorrow.

Si se Puede!