DETROIT (WWJ) — A call for Whole Foods to pull products of the world’s largest berry distributor from its shelves is being heard in Detroit.
Protesters want all of Driscoll’s products to be dropped from stores because of the company’s repression of union organizing.
Phillip Bailey with Industrial Workers of the World explained to WWJ Newsradio 950 more about why the boycott is necessary.
“Because Sakuma Brothers doesn’t market berries under their own name — they market them, they sell all of their berries to Driscoll’s,” Bailey said. “The only way to really make improvements with their employer — their direct employer — is to work at the distributor to put pressure on the employer.”
Union iron worker Abraham Shakur explained how farmers are working.
“They live in shacks with no running water, there’s no heat, and then people complain about E. coli and other bacteria when these people have no sanitary conditions to be able to wash their hands and bathe,” Shakur said. “It is sub-human, it’s not right that American consumers get such a good deal on berries at the expense of workers.”
Bailey said farmers on the Sakuma Brothers Berry Farm deal with no bathrooms in the field, housing falling apart, and more. Farmworker Allies — the group that organized the gathering — demand change since companies like Whole Foods claim to care about justice in the supply chain.
“Most of them are immigrant workers — they have no rights under the National Labor Relations Act, because farm workers and domestic workers are exempted from the act,” Bailey said.
Shakur said farmers have started a small union of their own.
In a statement sent to WWJ by Vital Content public relations on behalf of Sakuma Brothers Farms — Sakuma called “the comments by Bailey and Shakur completely inaccurate.”
Adding in part; “Harvest workers return to Sakuma year after year because of great wages and the respectful treatment they are given here.
Sakuma’s harvest pay system far exceeds state and federal law by ensuring that our harvest workers are paid for all productive and nonproductive time. Under the pay system, harvest workers are paid a guaranteed hourly rate of $10/hour for all hours worked (53 cents above Washington’s minimum wage of $9.47/hour). Sakuma adds to the base rate a production bonus based on the number of pounds picked, equaling up to $30.00 an hour. That means on any given day, harvest workers can, and do, make up to $40.00 an hour. The pay schedule includes two paid breaks that are based on their average hourly wage earned for the day including bonuses, and a lunch period.
Sakuma is one of the few farms in the region to provide free company housing for up to 350 plus harvest pickers. Every unit features running water.”
In June of 2014, Sakuma Brothers Farms agreed to pay $850,000 and change certain employment practices at the Skagit Valley berry supplier in what could be the largest farmworker wage-and-hour settlement on record in Washington, according to the Seattle Times.
Whole Foods tells WWJ they have been in contact about specific concerns brought up by protestors with Driscoll’s.
The rally runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in front of Whole Foods in Detroit’s Midtown.