By David Bacon
April 23rd, 2019
Originally posted at People’s World

Ramon Torres, President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, prunes blueberry bushes on the land of the union's new cooperative, Tierra y Libertad. | David Bacon

Ramon Torres, President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, prunes blueberry bushes on the land of the union’s new cooperative, Tierra y Libertad. | David Bacon

In 2013, in Washington State, Familias Unidas por la Justicia was born when migrant indigenous Mexican blueberry pickers refused to go into the fields of Sakuma Brothers Farms after one of them had been fired for asking for a wage increase. Workers then organized work stoppages for the next four years to raise the piece-rate wages. At the same time, they organized boycott committees in cities on the Pacific Coast to pressure Sakuma’s main customer, the giant berry distributor Driscoll’s Inc. In 2017, the farm’s owners agreed to an election, and the union won. Familias Unidas then negotiated a two-year contract with Sakuma Brothers Farms.

“We know this contract is going to change our lives,” says Ramon Torres, FUJ president.  “We have always been invisible people, but now our children will have the opportunity to keep studying. It’s not that we want to get them out of the fields but we want them to have an opportunity to decide they want.  Our members understand that we are not just farmworkers.  We are part of a community.”

Since signing the contract, work stoppages have occurred on many nearby ranches. Most of those workers are also Mixtec and Triqui migrants from Oaxaca and Guerrero in southern Mexico, who now live permanently in rural Washington. Familias Unidas has been able to help workers in these spontaneous strikes. The piece rate for picking berries at Sakuma Brothers Farms has increased dramatically, with some workers earning as much as $30 per hour.  Now farmworkers at other farms have taken action to raise their own wages.

“The wages on the other farms are much lower,” Torres explains.  “So our vision is to help form independent unions and negotiate contracts there also. Everything is led by the workers.  The purpose is to grow the union so that all of us have fair wages.”

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