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“We pick fruits and vegetables for everyone,” Ramón Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice) told a meeting of more than 60 students at Seattle University April 20. “We deserve fair wages, medical benefits, and good working conditions. The only way we can achieve this is to have a union contract.”
Familias Unidas, organized in 2013 by farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms, is also calling for a boycott of berries sold under the Driscoll label, which Sakuma supplies.
Torres was joined by Alfredo Juárez and Alicia Santos García, high school students who work at Sakuma Farms and are members of the union’s 10-person leadership committee, and Edgar Franks from Community to Community Development, which has provided support for the union from the beginning. The meeting was sponsored by Moral Mondays, an initiative of Black Lives Matter at Seattle University.
“We go to work at 5 a.m., rain or shine,” Juárez said. “One day when I felt sick and asked the foreman if I could go home, he said, ‘If you don’t go back to work, the family will have 12 hours to clear out of company housing.’”
The union won a $500,000 settlement in 2014 for workers shortchanged by Sakuma Farms on their wages. Payments were scheduled to begin April 26.
“The strawberry harvest has begun in California,” Torres said. “Pickers get about 30 cents for the baskets of berries that sell for $6 in the stores. Can we get paid $15? I think so.”
Familias Unidas supported the recent strike of farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley in Baja California, Mexico. The farmworkers union there, the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice, announced April 8 that they were joining the boycott of Driscoll, which also buys berries from their area.
Sakuma Brothers said they will institute a $10 an hour minimum wage plus a production bonus this year.
“We want $15 an hour, no piece rate, and overtime pay,” said Torres. “We want a union contract.”
“The new company CEO is the third union buster they’ve hired. I don’t think he’ll succeed,” he said.
Information on Familias Unidas can be found at www.boycottsakumaberries.com.
Under zero-hour contracts workers have no assurance of a regular schedule.
Confidence is up after Burger King, Hell’s Pizza and Restaurant Brands, which operates the franchise for Pizza Hut, Carl’s Jr., KFC and Starbucks in New Zealand, ended the abusive zero-hour practice.
More than 100 people marched up Queen Street, a busy shopping area, stopping outside stores to cheer or boo according to the stance of the company on zero hours. The march stopped and picketed outside two McDonald’s restaurants.
“Secure hours are important for us,” Mobeen Iqbal, a McDonald’s worker in Grey Lynn, told the Militant. “We have families to support. They can change our hours from week to week and we can’t live like that.”
“Bosses play favorites,” a worker named Katerina said. “Some get all the hours while others are not getting shifts. My boss told me I could only get graveyard shifts.”
Jacinta Anderson told the picket line rally that her boss at McDonald’s refused to pay her the 50 cents an hour minimum wage increase that went into effect April 1. He claimed that because she was in the union she was not entitled to it.
“When I returned from a two and a half week holiday the boss had arbitrarily cut my hours,” McDonald’s worker Mario Vaniecivich told the protest.
“We’re uniting for our patients and we’re asking management to prioritize safe RN and caregiver staffing levels that have proven to save lives,” Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a registered nurse at Montefiore Medical Center and president of the New York State Nurses Association, said in a press release that day. “There are times when we’re caring for 9 or 10 patients — even more — and it’s not possible to give each patient the attention that they need.”
Informational picket lines were maintained all day, swelling at the shift changes as nurses joined in before or after work.
At the Brooklyn Hospital Center, a nurse who declined to give her name told the Militant that understaffing was the worst she had seen in her 37 years of nursing. “I believe health care is a human right,” she said, adding that after hearing from friends who traveled to revolutionary Cuba about health care there, she is eager to visit the island.
During the picketing, a woman jumped out of a van distributing potato chips and handed bags of chips to picketers. “Good luck,” she said as she jumped back in the van and took off to a round of cheers by the nurses.
Hundreds of nurses rallied and lobbied in Albany, the state capital, April 21 calling for passage of legislation to set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios and create universal single-payer health care in the state.