Farmworkers strike, make demands

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BURLINGTON -- More than 200 farmworkers walked off Sakuma Bros. berry fields Thursday to demand better wages and working conditions at a Skagit County farm. The farmworkers said they will return once their demands are met, The Skagit Valley Herald reported.

"I've never seen a group this organized walk off," said Edgar Franks of Community to Community Development, a social justice advocacy group. "I've never heard of a list of demands."

While galvanizing around a co-worker's firing, the field hands also say they are unhappy with the Sakumas bringing in temporary H-2A visa workers for the late August harvest. The field hands say the visa workers will be guaranteed a higher minimum wage, better housing, and all of their transportation costs covered to and from Mexico.

Owner Steve Sakuma says there has been a misunderstanding.

Under federal law, H-2A workers must be provided transportation to and from where they are recruited, housing and local transportation for personal matters. In an H-2A contract period, U.S. migrant workers, such as the striking group, should be given similar compensation if they perform the same job as the H-2A workers. Additionally, H-2A workers can't displace U.S. workers.

Sakuma said his farm is bringing 160 workers in under H-2A status Aug. 5.

The group gave a list of demands to farm President Ryan Sakuma before walking together back to their encampment. The demands included the rehiring of a migrant his co-workers say was fired for complaining about wages, an increase in pay from 30 cents per pound to 70 cents per pound, better working and housing conditions, and for workers to not be intimidated.

Steve Sakuma said the housing was up to state standards and was regularly inspected, adding that the pay was fair and higher than the standard rate.