Western students and community members held a protest outside Costco on Monday, April 17, urging shoppers and the store to boycott Driscoll’s Berries and Sakuma Brothers for their reputation of mistreatment toward farmworkers.
Western’s Students for Farmworker Justice club is working with Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a local independent union of farmworkers that used to work for Sakuma Brothers and other independent agricultural businesses.
Galen Herz, a senior involved with the club, said the goal of the boycott is to apply economic pressure to the farm management of Sakuma so that FUJ and Sakuma can negotiate a union contract for farmworkers.
“This contract can give workers basic human necessities such as lunch breaks, medical provisions and other things that allow for a decent quality of life,” Herz said.
“Farmworkers need to have liveable conditions. If the farms and the people making our foods aren’t healthy, then none of us are.”
Bellingham local Tina Mckin
Driscoll’s Berries, a multibillion-dollar company, is one of the largest berry producers in the world producing strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. There are many independent growers along the west coast and parts of Mexico that work for Driscoll’s Berries, such as the Sakuma Brothers, located in Burlington.
FUJ has taken their campaign along the West Coast. They are on a monthlong tour that started March 18. The tour consists of stopping at cities and organizing boycott committees, according to the FUJ website.
It has been three years, and the Sakuma Brothers have yet to sign a fair work contract.
Tina Mckin, a 41-year-old local participating in the protest, said it was unfortunate the group had to ask people to boycott.
“FUJ has tried talking directly, calling, making meetings, signing petitions and sending letters to Sakuma, but they never hear back,” Mckin said. “So we have to talk to them in a language they understand, which is a boycott that has the potential to bite into their budget.”
The average life span of an American farmworker is 49 years while the average American lifespan is 73 years, according to the United Farm Workers website. There can be serious consequences for workers if conditions aren’t regulated, according to the FUJ.
“FUJ is working actively to get conditions changed,” Mckin said. “Farmworkers need to have liveable conditions. If the farms and the people making our foods aren’t healthy then none of us are.”
These boycotts have brought the mistreatment of farmworkers to light and some Costco shoppers do not think they will continue to purchase Driscoll’s Berries.
“This makes me think about what I want to do when I go into the store,” Becky Sipsey, a local who frequently shops at Costco, said. “I wouldn’t go buy Driscoll berries because I am a union person and I like to support people.”
However, Driscoll has said they have been unfairly targeted with secondary boycotts and dissemination of misinformation, according to the company’s official statement.
Driscoll upholds that independent growers, such as Sakuma Berries, use labor standards that build upon those introduced by global labor organizations, placing an importance on worker safety and a zero tolerance policy towards the use of child labor and worker abuse.
“A group of protesters, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), is currently conducting a secondary boycott against Driscoll’s, trying to pressure our company to play a role in labor negotiations between themselves and Sakuma Brothers,” Driscoll said in their official statement. “Last year, we met with several members of FUJ to clearly communicate our role when it comes to unions, freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
Driscoll said that they can not legal require their independent growers to recognize FUJ as a formal union, which has been a point of contention in negotiations between the two groups.
“While we acknowledge FUJ’s desire to become a legally recognized union, current Washington State law does not yet include a provision for farmworker unions,” Driscoll said in their official statement.
Greta Merkel, head coordinator of Western’s Students for Farm Worker Justice, said she and other former students have been able to bring the club back to life after it fizzled out last year.
“I think a lot of the times people want to get involved and they do, but in a very broad sense and they don’t necessarily see their actions have effects,” Merkel said. “But by joining our club, we work with such local issues that you can actually make a really big difference and learn a lot about what role you play in our community.”