A three-year union boycott against Sakuma and Driscoll berries and Häagen Dazs strawberry ice cream is over. In September, Skagit Valley agri-giant Sakuma Berries agreed to allow a union election and recognize and bargain a contract with the union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), if it won. FUJ is a local farmworker union affiliated with Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Workers voted 195-58 on Sept. 12 to join FUJ; 377 workers were eligible to vote, and the now-union-represented workforce swells to about 500 at the height of berry-picking season. No state law in Washington governs farmworker unionization, and farmworkers aren’t covered by the National Labor Relations Act, so Richard Ahearn, former regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, agreed to oversee the privately conducted vote count.
Now, negotiations are under way for a first union contract, and FUJ is being assisted in bargaining by Jason Holland, labor attorney with Washington Public Employees Association/ United Food and Commercial Workers Local 365. If the two sides fail to reach agreement, Ahearn will also serve as arbitrator, picking whichever side’s final offer is most reasonable.
In 2014, the company paid $850,000 in the largest-ever federal wage and hour lawsuit settlement in Washington. But the boycott was called earlier when the company refused to recognize the union. Most Sakuma Brothers berries are sold and marketed by Driscoll’s, based in Watsonville, California.