An Open Letter to Our Community
From Sakuma Brothers Farms
October 2, 2013
As the summer comes to a close, we want to thank our local community for your continued support and loyalty to our family business. We normally thank you by our participation in the annual Skagit County Festival of Family Farms; however, for the first time since its inception, we have chosen not to participate. We are not willing to provide an opportunity for the labor activist we have been dealing with all summer to upset this harvest celebration.
The labor unrest is not about Sakuma. It’s about labor activists’ opposition to a federal guest worker program.
We are not the “bad guys” in this dispute; our focus has always been to harvest our crops and pay a fair wage. We recognized that our available labor pool has been shrinking and in order to harvest our crops we needed to supplement our labor pool and our only viable option was to apply for the Federal H2A Guest Worker Program. The labor activist groups have not supported this program; they state it takes jobs away from domestic seasonal laborers and drives down wages and benefits. If this was true, we would join their “Protest”. The fact is that a H2A Guest Worker cannot displace a willing, able and qualified domestic worker – that is Federal Law. It is a fact that the Washington minimum wage is $9.19 per hour and the H2A minimum wage for our local region is $12.00 per hour – that is Federal Law. It is a fact that because we have an approved H2A contract, we pay all of our seasonal piece rate berry pickers a minimum of $12.00 per hour, regardless of classification as H2A or domestic – that is Federal Law.
All of you have witnessed our labor struggles throughout the summer through print and social media, local TV, and live on the streets within our local and neighboring communities. This has been a disheartening experience for us as we believe that we treat our employees with dignity and respect. We have four generations of history in this community and the respect you have for our family name is truly important.
Our valued employees are the ones being hurt by this activism.
The real victims are our employees and their families, many of whom have worked with us for over ten years. We value all of our employees because they are the foundation of our business. We have lived and worked beside generations of employees who have raised their children to work hard and earn their way down the path to success. Many have gone on to become leaders in our community. Our seasonal employees have never been denied these same opportunities. We realize their challenges and we understand many have few choices at this stage in their lives. We believe that our effort to provide them with fair wages and housing allows them to achieve their goals. We believe that the majority of you understand and appreciate this paradigm.
Our want is simple; to have a stable, legal, and cost effective work force to harvest our crops. The requirements are clear and our analysis over the past 10 years has concluded the seasonal labor pool is shrinking. Immigration reform and having an executable Guest Worker program could fix this problem. The Sakuma Family business has actively sought these fixes and we would be willing to walk hand-in-hand with our current and future labor force to achieve this end.
Our vision is not of tomorrow but of a generation from today.
Enjoy your time celebrating at the Festival of Family Farms, October 5-6, 2013. We will see you next year.
Sakuma Brothers Farms President