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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Berry Pickers Call For Boycott Of Sakuma Brothers Farms

Flats of blueberries from Sakuma Brothers Farms are seen at Ballard Market in Seattle in 2013.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Disgruntled berry pickers at a major farm in Skagit Valley have brought their fight to grocery stores in Seattle, Mount Vernon and Bellingham. On Tuesday, about a dozen farm workers and advocates waved handmade signs outside of the upscale Ballard Market in Seattle, calling for a boycott.

“Don’t buy Sakuma berries,” shouted Anna Lopez, who’s picked berries at Sakuma Brothers Farms for about 10 years. Just inside the store, the produce section features deals on fresh-picked Sakuma blueberries and strawberries.

The labor dispute at Sakuma Brothers Farms erupted last month when more than 200 workers walked off the job twice in two weeks. The workers are pushing for wages of $12 per hour, better housing conditions and an improved complaint process, among other things.

“Pay people what is fair, give them bathroom breaks and don’t make them fight for jobs,” said Maru Mora-Villalpando, standing in the store parking lot. Mora-Villalpando is an immigrant rights consultant with Latino Advocacy, a nonprofit based in Seattle.

After last month’s strike, Sakuma called in mediators to help broker a deal, but those talks have fizzled. Now workers say they’re stuck with a contract they don’t like, and they’re hopeful consumers can add some pressure.

Seattle resident Gary Oman said he’s on board. “We’re not buying any berries here,” Oman said. “It’s not fair,” Oman told the farm workers in Spanish. “We agree with you.”

Customer Carolyn Frechier, of Seattle, was unsure if the boycott would alter her shopping list. “Perhaps,” Frechier said. “I’d have to find out more about it. I don’t really like to make a quick judgment from seeing five or six people standing around with signs without really knowing much about it.”

Moments later, another shopper briskly unloaded two flats of Sakuma blueberries into her SUV. She declined to comment on the boycott but said she bought the berries “because they’re good.”

Part of the friction at Sakuma Brothers Farms relates to the H-2A visa program for foreign workers. For the first time this year, Sakuma brought in a crew of about 160 guest workers from Mexico.

The local workers say the visa contracts pay more, but Sakuma spokesman John Segale previously said the terms are equal. Segale declined to comment for this story; however, he did confirm that the talks with workers are off.

Year started with KUOW: 2006