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Vol. 81/No. 25      July 10, 2017

(front page)

Berry workers in Washington win contract,
raise, respect

BURLINGTON, Wash. — In a historic gain for farmworkers in Washington — the 11th largest agricultural producing state in the U.S. — berry pickers in the Skagit Valley here ratified the first contract between their union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, and Sakuma Brothers Farms June 15. The two-year pact is the only union contract for farmworkers in western Washington.

The workers won a significant pay increase. “Thanks to the support we have won, we now have wages based on $15 an hour, more than any other farmworkers in the state,” Ramón Torres, president of the union, told the Militant. “In the contract we have ways to defend any worker who is fired unjustly. Our most important next step is to defend the contract. ¡Si se puede!

“On Monday people went in to work. They said they didn’t have to work as hard to get paid $15 an hour,” Alfredo Juarez, 17, one of the youngest activists and leaders in the union, told the Militant. “So it’s a bit more relaxed now.”

In addition to the pay raise, the union won the right to represent all the pickers on the farm; seniority in layoffs and recalls; and for workers to have union representatives in the fields and at disciplinary proceedings.

In the first week since the contract was signed, Juarez said field bosses have been less abusive. “They don’t say much about you going to the bathroom or taking time to drink water, they used to be real hard on that. I haven’t heard any complaint about supervisors talking bad to workers.”

The bosses agreed to set up a grievance and arbitration system, and negotiations are continuing on a retirement plan.

The victory came almost four years after pickers first struck over abusive conditions. They formed Familias Unidas, based on a workforce largely composed of indigenous Mixteca and Triqui people from southern Mexico. For more than three years workers struck, marched, and won growing support in the labor movement and the community. The group reorganized as a union and finally won a representation election in September 2016.
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