Blood, Sweat and Berries Blog’s search for justice doesn’t appear to include telling the truth
We appreciate the editor of the blog Blood, Sweat and Berries, publishing a disclaimer that the facts in the article published on this blog may not be verified. Indeed, the report provided by Scott Hines, is unfortunately filled with numerous factual errors, many of which could easily have been verified.
Fact 1: Ramon Torres was fired from Sakuma Farms in compliance with the farm’s policy of providing a safe working and living environment. The following information was published on Sakumafacts.com on October 3 and thus completely available for Mr. Hines to know:
Ramon was arrested by Skagit County Sheriffs on August 30th (Case Number C00062705) at the farm workers camp at Sakuma Brothers Farms. According to the arrest report, Torres had pushed his wife Deanna Torres as well as “hit her and pulled the previous day.” We take domestic violence very seriously, especially spousal abuse in our housing. Due to safety concerns for all workers and people in the camp, we had no choice but terminate him and remove him from the camp. Our society has witnessed too many deadly instances when domestic violence and spousal abuse were ignored or covered up. The fact is that Ramon Torres was arrested for assaulting his wife in the presence of others and, thus, was considered a threat to the entire camp.
Fact 2: If Sakuma Farms paid workers what Mr. Torres is claiming, we would be violating federal law and face serious consequences.
The facts are very clear, and again very accessible to Mr. Hines. Under federal law, in Washington State employers hiring guest workers are required to pay not only the guest workers a minimum of $12 per hour, but all workers doing the same contract work a minimum of $12 per hour. An incentive pay system allows most to make more than that, some much more. But even those who do not harvest enough under the incentive pay system to meet the $12 per hour minimum still are paid $12 per hour. This is considerably higher than guest workers in California are paid, and considerably higher than Washington State’s minimum wage of $9.19 per hour.
Fact 3: Sakuma Farms never broke off negotiations nor failed to live up to any commitment.
The mediator in this dispute, a respected former official of the federal National Labor Relations Board, will attest to the fact that it was the workers and their leader, Rosalinda Guillen, who withdrew from the negotiations. Sakuma has never broken an agreement made with these striking workers. It is also important to note that during the harvest season, while some workers participated in the strike and boycott against Sakuma, most did not. Throughout the harvest season an average of about 300 pickers were engaged in harvesting the berries, many more than those involved in the labor action. This despite the fact of threats and intimidation made against those wanting to work. Those who wanted to work left the housing area much earlier in the morning than normal to avoid the activists standing at the gates intimidating them and trying to prevent them from working.
Fact 4: Sakuma never intentionally underpaid or withheld pay from workers.
The following facts were published on our website on October 3 and again provide factual information easily verified by Mr. Hines:
We did have a payroll problem early this summer which was outside of our control. But, it was corrected immediately and those employees were paid their full amounts. We use ADS (DataTracK), which is well-known for its highly-reputable electronic data tracking. We download the data from our in-field electronic scanners and this combined with registration data (name, date of birth, address, etc.) is then sent to ADP who cuts the check. ADP’s payroll program takes care of all aspects of payroll including the proper withholding and related deductions. ADS had a programming problem when they transitioned payroll calculations from 2012 to 2013 which impacted a very small group of workers who were also minors. Due to the ADS mistake, these workers were treated as “exempt” from minimum wage. As soon as Sakuma Brothers Farms discovered the problem, we manually calculated the earnings of every affected employee and they were paid the full amount earned. ADS made the programming correction and the system has worked fine since then.
Fact 5: This labor action is not about Sakuma and its working conditions, but about labor activists’ opposition the federal guest worker program.
Sakuma Farms is fourth generation family farm operating in Skagit County. The history of our Japanese-American family includes service in the US military and internment in camps during World War II. We have established very strong relationships with our workers, many of whom have worked with us for more than ten years. Our housing, while not plush by any means, meets and exceeds all government requirements and many of our local working families choose to leave their homes in the community to stay in our housing during the harvest season. This housing is provided free of charge to them.
The labor action was initiated by Rosalinda Guillen (seated next to Mr. Torres in the picture on the blog post), who is a former United Farm Worker employee and who heads the non-profit Community to Community organization in Bellingham. The “Truth-Out” blog, referred to next, makes it clear what Guillen’s objections are: “To Rosalinda Guillen, the H2A program undermines wages and conditions. And Congress’ bills would make this worse.”
Sakuma Farms was targeted for this action because we are the first and largest in the region to make use of the federal guest worker program. This program was intended to help reduce the severe shortage of farm workers and is a closely monitored process for bringing legal foreign workers in for a harvest season. Labor activists oppose this program because they believe it limits their ability to organize workers. Sakuma Farms has lost hundreds of thousands of pounds of berries in previous seasons due to a shortage of pickers and so opted to make use of the H2A guest worker program, to supplement, not replace our domestic workers. Labor activists such as Ms. Guillen work to discourage the use of this program. That is the real story behind this unfortunate dispute.
The most significant fact in this action, one completely missed by Mr. Hines, is that it is the workers themselves who are being hurt the most by the labor activists who are using them to front their protests. Such action will only likely increase mechanization and decrease work opportunities for those who have few such opportunities to choose from.
We have a question or two for the editor and owners of the Blood, Sweat and Berries blog. Have you considered talking to those majority of workers at Sakuma who continued to work hard throughout the season, despite aggressive efforts to prevent them from working? Mr. Hines, your desire and work for justice is to be applauded. But your good work can have little impact if it is based on the kind of false information which has been irresponsibly repeated in this post.
Truth Out Blog Has Trouble Finding the Truth
With a name like “truth out” one might expect a blog to be very careful with the facts. That is not the case with David Bacon’s blog.
Many of the same lies repeated by the activists are presented here as facts, such as the firing of Ramon Torres.
The blog says that security guards were hired to frighten people in the camp. Guards were hired after workers who continued to work expressed fears about the intimidation they were subject to by the activists.
The blog also repeats the lie of not paying domestic workers the same as the H2A guest workers. As we have repeatedly stated, and would be known to Mr. Bacon, not paying domestic workers doing the same contract work as the guest workers would violate federal law. Bacon states: Then Sakuma told strikers he wouldn’t pay them any more than he was paying the H2A workers. Sometimes he even offered them less.
Apparently, Mr. Bacon’s idea of “truth out” doesn’t include any effort to get the facts right. The $12 per hour minimum in Washington State is set by federal law and is considerably higher than guest workers are paid in California. All domestic workers doing the same contract work as the guest workers are required to get the same $12 per hour minimum. This is the law and Sakuma Farms would face significant consequences if we did as Mr. Bacon states.
Mr. Bacon’s post does make one important point very clear: Rosalinda Guillen’s issue is the H2A Guest Worker program. Her initiation and leadership of the labor unrest at Sakuma was a result of the Sakuma’s decision to supplement the limited supply of domestic workers with guest workers. The unrest was never about Sakuma, but about labor activists’ concerns about the guest worker program and immigration reform bills that Congress is considering.