Berries and Boycotts

Learn more about the controversy behind Driscoll’s.

This fall, pickers at Sakuma Brothers farm, a massive Washington state berry grower, voted to join Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), the first union led by farmworkers indigenous to Central America.

A small group of farmworkers formed FUJ in the summer of 2013. According to a statement, FUJ organized to end “systematic wage theft, poverty wages, hostile working conditions, and unattainable production standards” on the farm. 

Sakuma Brothers is one of the largest strawberry growers in Washington state. The farm is located in prime berry country, an hour north of Seattle, where the Skagit River snakes through a fertile, rain-soaked valley before emptying into Skagit Bay. 

Sakuma supplies strawberries to Driscoll’s, a vast, family owned, California-based food company and the largest berry distributor in the world. Driscoll’s berries are in food stores everywhere, and the Co-op is no exception. In season, we sell local strawberries; out of season, we sell Driscoll’s.

FUJ will negotiate with Sakuma for a union contract to improve wages, benefits, and housing conditions for farmworkers. The historic vote brings welcome relief to a long, bitter struggle, one that included calls for a boycott.

“This win is a win for all farmworkers, ” said Ramon Torres, President of FUJ. “Now we will be getting ready for a union contract negotiation process.”

Torres is a fiery young activist and organizer, often appearing in shiny white athletic shoes, baggy jeans, a tee shirt, and a baseball cap. He is president of an 11-member negotiations committee and now, in the wake of the vote, represents more than 500 farm workers.

“The demand is that they sign a union contract with us,” Torres once told Democracy Now, “and that they give us good conditions for housing and work, better salaries, medical plans, pensions, and that they remove our children from the fields.” 

The contract negotations are a positive step for Sakuma, Driscoll’s, and FUJ. But when it comes to boycotts, the issue is still far from over.

Berries and Boycotts

In 2015, allegations of labor violations in Washington also spread to Driscoll’s suppliers in San Quintin, Mexico. Today Driscoll’s continues to face pressure from organized labor on both sides of the border.

Union representatives in Washington and Mexico both initially called for a boycott until suppliers met union demands. In the wake of the historic Washington vote, FUJ has called off the boycott for now. But not so in Mexico.

The Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice (AONEMJS) and the National Democratic Independent Union of Agricultural Workers (SINDJA) issued a statement clarifying that they still fully support a Driscoll’s boycott. Organizers are planning a Global Day of Action Saturday, Nov. 19, to promote the boycott and to show support for the San Quintín farm workers, who seek a collective bargaining agreement.

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“We clarify and reiterate that the boycott against Driscoll’s continues in full force because we called for a boycott over a year ago and the consumers have backed us up here in Mexico and in the United States and other parts of the world,” the statement said. “We will continue the resistance through the boycott of Driscoll’s for the dignity of thousands of farm workers that have supported the movement since March of the previous year, always with good will, cordiality and peace and in the effort to have a better life and a better future for the families of farm workers in San Quintín.”

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Soren Bjorn, executive vice president for Driscoll’s Americas, said the company fully supports workers’ rights to unionize. “All along, we said that workers had the right to associate and if they want someone to represent them, they should have those rights and that should be honored,” Bjorn told Civil Eats.

In a statement, Driscoll’s said the company was disappointed that two separate labor issues “are still being linked together to unfairly target Driscoll’s with secondary boycotts, dissemination of misinformation, and false accusations.” 

According to the statement, Sakuma and FUJ reached an agreement that ended the boycotts and protests, and in Mexico, an industry-wide agreement “ended a strike across all crops, not just berries, or only those berries sold under the Driscoll’s brand.”

Learn More

Have concerns about Driscoll’s? So do we. We’ll be talking about it and monitoring it, and if you have a question or comment or want to learn more, we’d love to hear from you. Email comment@coopfoodstore.com. In the meantime, you can learn more here:

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis

Ken is a writer in the Co-op Outreach Department. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.