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  • Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, or Families United for Justice, picket against Driscoll's in Washington.

    Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, or Families United for Justice, picket against Driscoll's in Washington. | Photo: Facebook / Familias Unidas Por La Justicia

Published 7 June 2016

Despite more attention to their cause thanks to the Bernie Sanders campaign, organizer Ramon Torres told teleSUR that their conditions have not changed.

Farm workers, mostly undocumented and Indigenous, doubled their movement for a union contract this year, inspired by the winning Fight for 15 campaign but demanding more.

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“It’s almost the same fight,” Ramon Torres, berry picker and director of Families United for Justice, told teleSUR. The differences, though, are important.

Since most migrant farm workers do not have U.S. citizenship, they are not protected under labor law, nor by their employees, no matter how progressive their labor policy. They also see much more cases of child labor and of wage theft.

Families United for Justice, which organizes for 468 berry pickers at the Sakuma Brothers Farm in Washington, united in 2013 with a union representing over 80,000 laborers in San Quintin, Baja California that is also contracted out to Driscoll's, the world’s largest berry producer.

Together, after strikes and lawsuits brought gains but not permanent change, they launched a boycott of all Driscoll’s products. Nearly 10,000 consumers and organizations have signed a petition supporting their call.

The fruit producer is heavily backed by supermarket chains like Costco and Whole Foods, who insist that its practices comply with fair trade standards.

After the Sakuma workers brought attention to their dismal conditions — poor housing, up to 15 hours of work a day without no breaks, racial harassment — Driscoll’s responded that, “Sakuma is in compliance with our standards and is making continuous improvements in providing a forum for open dialogue and empowerment for their farmworkers.”

Because Families United for Justice is not able to register as a union under state law, Driscoll’s said there is nothing else they can do.

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Still, Torres said that it proudly distributes a sticker that guarantees fair trade practices, essentially a lie that covers up continuing mistreatment of its employers.

Years of attention from civil society groups and politicians like Bernie Sanders have brought to the sticker, he said, so while the attention from the senator has been exceptional — he was the only candidate to recognize, but not endorse, their cause — their conditions have not changed.

Other farm workers have seen improvements — even temporary H-2A guest workers at Sakuma are paid higher, though neither have benefits — so when Families United for Justice launched a month-long tour of the west coast in April, they collected good examples to add to a list of companies not to boycott.

The group will report back on their tour in Seattle on June 20 to begin organizing with twice the numbers. Torres said that now that they have 41 committees and 42 organizations behind them, they will plan two actions a month to increase pressure on Sakuma.

Without the right to collective bargaining, and having already seen workers fired and replaced with guest workers, Sakuma workers are putting their jobs on the line to, Torres said, secure the future of their children.

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