Mount Vernon, WA – Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook ruled that Sakuma Brothers Farms must open its labor camp doors to farm workers with families and stop retaliating against members of Familias Unidas por la Justica (“Families United for Justice” in English), a group of domestic agricultural workers who banded together last summer to ask for better wages and working conditions.
Irma Santiago, a 23-year-old Sakuma farm worker from Stockton, California, who testified at the trial was elated with the decision. “I’ve worked and lived at Sakuma since I was 14 years old. This year, when we called for work they told us we would not be hired and should look elsewhere. I’m very happy the judge ruled that our family can continue to work and live in the housing, so we can try to improve working conditions for the next generation.”
“This is a major victory for hard-working farm worker families and their children,” said Andrea Schmitt from Columbia Legal Services, one of the attorneys representing Familias. “The judge understood that when Sakuma denied housing to our clients, it was denying them employment. If Sakuma was allowed to do that, they would have effectively eliminated the majority of the members of Familias from its workforce who rely on labor camps to make ends meet.”
Kathy Barnard, a veteran labor law attorney from the Seattle law firm of Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt LLP who co-counseled with Schmitt, put the case into perspective. “Washington law protects workers who join together from retaliation. This ruling means Sakuma cannot deny access to its labor camp and use housing as a weapon to retaliate against workers who ask for better pay and working conditions.”
This is now the third time that Sakuma has been ordered to stop retaliating against members of Familias. Last August, the same court ruled Sakuma had to remove security guards it placed in the labor camps because that unlawfully interfered with the rights of members of Familias. Earlier this month, a second ruling was entered which required Sakuma to stop refusing to hire Familias members in retaliation for strikes last season.
Felimon Pineda, the vice president of Familias who testified at trial said this is a powerful ruling for his members. “Our members want to work hard and have a simple roof over their heads. In return, we ask for fair wages and respect. We hope that this third ruling in our favor, to open the labor camps to families with children, will finally lead to productive discussions to reach a labor agreement instead of wasteful fighting in court.”