Posted November 24, 2015 by Cooper Point Journal in Community

Driscoll Berry Boycott

Workshop Discussing the Ongoing Action

By Sarah Bradley

Community members came out to show support, learn about, and act in solidarity with the ongoing boycott of Driscoll’s brand berries at a workshop and information session organized by Olympia Farmworkers Justice Collective and Familias Unidas por la Justicia at Obsidian on Sunday, November 8.The goal of the workshop was to inform attendees of the boycott of Sakuma and Driscoll brand berries as well as to provide resources and strategies to spread word about the injustices that buying from the boycotted companies supports.

Familias Unidas is an independently formed farmworkers justice union out of the Skagit Valley. Ramon Torres, a lead organizer for the union, was the key speaker for the event. Torres has been a key organizer for fair treatment of Sakumas farm workers since July 2013, when the strike and negotiations for fair treatment began. Torres explained the history of the boycott and the demands being made by workers for just compensation of labor.

The incident that sparked the boycott began back in July 2013 when an employee and field worker for Sakuma Brothers Farm was fired after asking for a raise. This lead to a strike of more than 250 workers. “One the first day of the strike, 140 families came out to show support” said Torres to the crowd at Obsidian. That was two and a half years ago and since then the organization around the boycott has expanded.

The initial strike lead to the forming of a worker’s union. The union has called for a consumers boycott until worker’s get a fair contract. Sakuma berries are largely distributed and packaged by Driscoll’s brand berries – the largest berry distributor in America. The boycott is against Sakuma Bros. and Driscoll’s brand berries, Hagan Daz ice cream — which uses Driscoll’s berries in some of their flavors — and corporate stores Whole Foods and Costco.

The intention of the boycott is to send a message that you do not support the unfair treatment of farm workers. Farm workers for Sakuma, as explained by Torres, work 8 to 10 hour shifts with no break and are paid according to the amount of product they pick, as opposed to an hourly rate.

There are also children who work in the farms because they need to help financially support their family. “[the children] work every year. And it’s not because want to…it’s because their parents have to make rent.” Torres informed the attendees at the Boycott Driscoll’s workshop. “A 12 year old child should be enjoying their vacation before school…that’s what a child should be doing.”

Part of the contract the union is fighting for will stop children from working. Other demands include $15.00 an hour pay rate, medical insurance, and fair housing conditions for field workers. Until these demands are met, the boycott of the aforementioned brands is in place.

In addition to the boycott, Familias Unidas organizes picket lines twice a month in Seattle. They distribute informative fliers outside of Whole Foods and Costco in hopes to impact the choices made by shoppers. The boycott Sakuma’s website offers more informations on these actions and how you can take part in them.

The work of the boycott is aided by various committees all over the country. There are currently 40 committees with hopes to double this number by Spring of 2016. Familias Unidas develops the strategies for the boycott and the committees work to bring these plans to the community.
In Olympia, the Olympia Farmworkers Justice Collective meets on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Bread & Roses. The collective works to put on educational events for the community – such as this workshop – and also does fundraising, organizes pickets at grocery stores, and tables at community events.

A stable committee in Olympia will help Familas Unidas in their effort to receive a fair workers contract. Grecia Ramirez, one of the organizers of Olympia Farmworkers Justice Collective, expressed the advantage of being located in the state capital, explaining that the Olympia committee can be fundamental in helping to stop certain legislation that will be harmful to the people working on the farms.

The Olympia food co-op is one place that you can shop at which does not support, endorse, or supply Dricoll’s brand products. Likewise, the Flaming Eggplant, the collectively run cafe on campus, also makes the choice to not use any of the brands included in the Sakuma’s berry boycott.

Grassroots tactics have been historically effective to put pressure on corporations to treat workers fairly. “If we can put enough pressure on Driscoll’s, with the boycott, if we make them lose money, then Driscoll’s will have no choice but to listen to us and initiate a contract.” Said Torres.

During the impassioned, urgent, and educational speech given at Obsidian, Torres asked the audience why these workers are not being treated fairly. “Why do you think that this country is exploiting us? I think one of the reasons is because we’re Mexican and the other is that most of our people are indigenous. Most of them don’t speak Spanish or English…that’s why there’s more abuse. And we don’t want that.”

After Ramon Torres finished his address to the crowd at Obsidian, the room opened up for a Q&A session, followed by a workshop lead by two organizers on how to canvass. Canvassing is a grassroots technique to spread information within a community. The goals of the canvass were to engage community members in conversation about the treatment of farmworkers, get contact info to keep people informed, and also to raise money for Familias Unidas’ organization efforts.

Those in attendance of the workshop were encouraged to knock on doors in Olympia to spread the information that we learned. It was a great way to stay engaged with the community and to support the Sakuma workers. There will be more events and canvassing opportunities in the future in Olympia. You can check out one of the Olympia Farmworkers Justice Collective meetings to learn more.

To stay informed about the boycott, you can for updates about the campaign and to learn more about the history of the boycott.