From 2016, Gabi Rios, a former member of the NFWM Youth and Young Adult Network and then, president of Farm Worker Ministry-Northwest recounts the meeting: “I went in [alone] and it was what you would expect. He (the CEO of Sakuma Bros. Berries) tried to make arguments about how they treat workers well and wonderfully and no one is complaining. He said ignorant and racist things like ‘you’d be surprised these farm workers actually know English’. Ultimately, it didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t back down and I think he was surprised by that. He said he already did things FUJ wanted to do so I said ‘great, sit down with them’ and then he ended the meeting. I came in with 500 postcards he wouldn’t take. It was intimidating meeting alone. You feel a lot of responsibility. It felt like a real opportunity to intervene in a real way so I put a lot of pressure on myself, but once I met him, I realized it was a formality. He looked at me a certain kind of way. There is a saying in my culture: ‘if you realize someone is not taking you seriously, you step up.’ I don’t think he was expecting me to be so insistent; he seemed shocked every time.”
Gabi found herself an unexpected major figure in the boycott of Sakuma Brother Farms and its distribution company, Driscoll Berries. Sakuma’s CEO had agreed to meet with Gabi and Gabi alone after rejecting all communications from Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice or FUJ), the organization formed to fight for the workers. Gabi thinks her credentials as a faith-based representative and an academic from a farm worker family led to his decision to sit down with her.
Almost a year before, NFWM, during their summer board meeting, along with Farm Worker Ministry-Northwest, participated in a march to the Sakuma office and ended with a rally. FUJ launched a national boycott of Driscoll’s and Haagen Daz strawberry ice cream after Sakuma made it clear that they would not take the worker’s complaints seriously.
Current NFWM Board President Hector Rodriguez recalls the decision to host a board meeting in Washington State during the boycott in support of the workers: “Farm workers had grievances that weren’t being recognized. We accompanied them [FUJ] on their first march through the growers headquarters and within a year or so, they won their first victory and they were recognized as representative of the workers. They won the things they were asking for. That was a satisfying moment for us,” said Hector.
Farm Worker Ministry-Northwest, a regional organization of NFWM, played a significant role in the boycott, spreading awareness, supporting rallies locally, attending meetings, and supporting the workers not only in the boycott but in their commitment to their faith. Gabi recalls meeting with workers whose churches weren’t in support of their fight and the appreciation the workers showed to the Ministry for their support.
“It meant a lot to them that faith-based people would stand up and say ‘this was wrong,’” said Gabi.
On September 12, 2016, farm workers at Sakuma Brothers Berry Farm voted in a historic election to have FUJ represent them. FUJ won with 77% of the vote. A little over one year later, in June 2017, FUJ reached a union contract agreement with Sakuma.
The original news article: http://nfwm.org/news/sakuma-bros-ceo-refuses-nfwm-supporters-postcards-2/