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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

June 26, 2014 at 5:15 PM

Skagit Valley berry farm: Limiting housing hurts many low-wage pickers

I am confused by the actions of Skagit Valley berry grower Sakuma Brothers Farms regarding farmworker housing [“Sakuma Brothers berry growers to pay $850,000 settlement,” Local News, June 12]. Newspaper reports credit Steve Sakuma saying that they began offering housing for farmworker families three generations ago as incentive for berry pickers to work at the farm.

Now he says that the workforce is dwindling and it is difficult to attract enough qualified workers. So instead of continuing to offer the usual housing, he has decided to offer it to single people only. He has effectively cut the pool of workers, as many of the migrant workers are composed of families that can no longer afford to travel to the Skagit Valley to pick those delicious berries.

Berry season is very brief, only from mid-June to early November, but not all the workers are needed for that entire season. Farmworkers can’t afford to pay the costs of new housing every six months. Because farm work is seasonal, these are very low-wage workers. That is why housing is used as an incentive. These aren’t houses for each family. Instead, they are tiny little spaces with a few beds and mattresses. They have a refrigerator and a sink. There are communal kitchens and bathrooms for the entire camp.

How desperate would you have to be to go to court to win the right to live in these conditions? Well, that is precisely what the farmworkers have done most recently.

Paul Booker, Camano Island

Comments | More in Agriculture | Topics: berries, farming, Paul Booker

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