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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Negotiations end Driscoll’s berry boycott at Bellingham Co-op

By Natalie Breymeyer

 

The boycott of Driscoll’s Berries by the Community Food Co-op has been halted on request of the Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a union representing farmworkers in Burlington. 

The union began calling for a boycott of Sakuma Farms in Burlington, a supplier of Driscoll’s, in 2013 for unfair wages and labor conditions.

While negotiations are in the works locally, the boycott continues internationally as a demonstration of solidarity with farmworkers who have been treated unfairly working for farms that produce Driscoll’s products.

 

The Associated Students announced it was officially boycotting Driscoll’s last spring. The WWU Students for Farmworker Justice club on campus has organized protests and some local businesses have stopped selling Driscoll’s products.

On Tuesday Sept. 13, after Familias Unidas por la Justicia had reached out to the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham asking them to call off the boycott, the board voted to make it official.

FUJ is an independent union representing 500 Triqui, Mixteco and Spanish speaking workers located in Burlington. It was formed two years ago in hopes of bringing the Skagit farmworkers fair working conditions.

For two years, The Co-op upheld the boycott and was one of the businesses refusing to sell Driscoll’s berries.

Adrienne Renz, outreach manager at The Co-op, explained its recent decision to call off the Driscoll’s boycott.

“We were asked specifically by FUJ to lift the boycott and since they were the ones who started this whole thing — it was in solidarity with them — that means we have to respect what they are now asking us to do,” Renz said.

Sophomore Greta Merkel is president of the WWU Students for Farmworker Justice club. The club has participated in pickets outside of establishments selling Driscoll’s products, and Merkel said the club will continue to do so.

“There’s a long ways to go locally and even longer for the people in Mexico.”

Greta Merkel

“The Skagit Valley farmworkers who belong to the union have called off the boycott because their employer has started the negotiation process for a union contract, so they had to call it off legally,” Merkel said.

Merkel said the issue with Driscoll’s farmworkers being treated unfairly still isn’t close to being resolved.

“Students at Farmworker Justice understand that a lot of farmworkers, especially still in Mexico, are still calling for a boycott,” Merkel said. “They face even worse violations of workers rights abuses, such as physical assault, sexual assault, racist harassment and wage theft. Just terrible stuff.”

Merkel said it’s been more difficult to push the boycott now that the Skagit farmworkers have joined a union, even though people in other countries are still facing unfair conditions.

“Even if they got a contract, I think there would still be racist harassment in the fields,” Merkel said. “There’s a long ways to go locally and even longer for the people in Mexico.”

Renz said the board has sent a note out to the produce managers of The Co-op saying they are now permitted to buy Driscoll’s products.

“We’re going to have a meeting with all of our members invited and with FUJ representatives so they can share with shoppers what it meant to them to have that boycott honor,” Renz said.

Renz said The Co-op is focusing on domestic fair trade and what goes into fairly grown products with fair labor practices.

“It isn’t the end of a conversation, but I think there’s a chance to show people can make an impact even if you’re not a huge corporation,” Renz said.

The Students for Farmworker Justice club plans to continue pickets outside Whole Foods and Costco in the future.

 

11/3/2016 Correction: The original article incorrectly stated Sakuma Brothers was initiating the boycott, instead of Familias Unidos por la Justica. Sakuma Brothers Farm is a Burlington supplier of Driscoll Berries. While Sakuma Brothers and Familias Unidos por la Justica have begun negotiations, the boycott continues internationally.

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