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UCC asked to join berry boycott to support farm workers

Briana Frenchmore, who is on the PNC’s Justice Witness Ministries Committee, has been spreading the word about the Farm Worker Ministry Northwest’s support for Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) and a boycott of berries from Sakuma Brothers and Driscoll’s.

Brianna Frenchmore and Gabi Rios discuss the Driscoll Berry Boycott called by Familias Unidas por la Justicia during 2016 Annual Meeting workshop.

She led a workshop at the PNC’s 2016 Annual Meeting, urging people of faith to stand in solidarity with FUJ and farm workers throughout the region.

“We want to mobilize the faith community to show up and support farm workers whenever and wherever they need us,” Briana said.

Farm workers in Burlington, Wash., have asked consumers to honor the boycott until they negotiate a legally binding contract for better pay, better working conditions and workplace protections with their employers, Sakuma Brothers.

She encouraged people to write store managers and participate in informational pickets to let more consumers know about the berry boycott.

Andrew Eckels of the boycott coordination team told workshop participants via Skype that Familias Unidas por la Justicia is the only farm worker union that is recognized by the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO.

 FUJ organized in 2013 after a farm worker, Federico Lopez, was fired for asking for a raise. As a response, FUJ created a list of written demands that included a raise in the piece rate because many were earning less than the minimum wage. 

They also sought humane living conditions and sick leave.  In addition, they asked to be treated with dignity and respect by supervisors, who frequently harassed and intimidated workers.

In 2014, when Sakuma Bros. would still not negotiate a contract with FUJ, the farm workers decided that it was time to escalate their efforts by calling for a boycott of Driscoll’s, the company that distributes Sakuma’s berries, said Andrew.

The boycott coordination committee, as directed by FUJ, has decided to focus on urging Costco, PCC Natural Markets and Whole Foods to stop selling Driscoll’s berries and Haagen Daaz strawberry ice cream.

These retailers were chosen because they value environmental production, and fair and ethical labor standards, he said. 

In March, FUJ set out on a two-month West Coast tour to widen their network of support. By the end of the tour, the number of boycott committees grew from eight in the Pacific Northwest to 41 committees nationwide, Briana reported

The Driscoll’s berry boycott has reached an international level as FUJ and berry pickers for Driscoll’s in San Quintin, Mexico, have united their efforts to negotiate contracts for better working conditions in both locations.

Many of the farm workers with FUJ are from the Triqui and Mixtec indigenous groups from Oaxaca, Mexico.  They have been displaced because of poor economic conditions. Many have family working in San Quintin or have worked there at some point themselves.

The National Farm Workers Ministry encourages congregations to pass endorsements and resolutions, said Briana.

At the workshop, Gabriela (Gabi) Rios, the president of Farm Worker Ministry Northwest, also spoke.

Gabi described how farm worker issues are also gender and minimum wage issues.

“Women face discrimination in the fields and do not have recourse to act to protect themselves,” she said.

A University of California at Santa Cruz study reported that 60 percent of 150 workers are sexually harassed—from verbal abuse to rape, she said.

“There is no grievance process, and the supervisors and crew leaders are not held accountable,” Gabi said. “So women sometimes dress like men to avoid being harassed. The most vulnerable are undocumented workers with no legal status.

“Women are also vulnerable to infertility and their babies to birth defects because of working in the fields sprayed with pesticides,” she added.

“Farm workers do not have guaranteed safety training and because there are no oversight protections for farm workers, they report that they often to do get lunch or bathroom breaks,” she said.

Briana reminded that the PNC Annual Meeting in 2014 voted to support the Living Wage Resolution.

The resolution recalls that Christian disciples in Acts shared all they had and that there was a Hebrew tradition of forgiving debt and freeing slaves every seven years, and every 50 years in the year of jubilee the land was equitably re-distributed.

“We do not own the land. It belongs to the Creator and is to be shared among creation,” she said.

Briana added that the principle of a living wage is to ensure that all who work full time have access to safe affordable housing, healthful food, health care, education, transportation, the right to organize, and time for rest and renewal.

Gabi shared that Farm Worker Ministries Northwest was founded in 1985, originally as the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry.

Many of the founders were responding to the call of leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta who asked faith communities to support farm workers in their struggle for just working conditions, dignity and respect.

Farm Worker Ministry has offered to come and speak to congregations who are interested in learning more about how to support farm workers in the Pacific Northwest region.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia invites faith communities to come and march with them at 3:30 p.m., Mondahy, July 11,, in Burlington, as they mark four years of struggle. 

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Copyright © June 2016 - Pacific NW United Church of Christ Conference News


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