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Farmworkers call for boycott after 3 years of employment disputes

Workers in Massachusetts should be able to expect that they will be fairly compensated for their hours worked, but employees across the country routinely must still contend with wage theft. Some farmworkers are still fighting for just treatment in ongoing employment disputes that have spanned multiple years. Recently, marginalized workers called on consumers to refrain from purchasing certain products.

A 2013 conflict acted as a springboard for seasonal laborers at Sakuma Brothers packaging plant. During that year's harvest and packaging, the company brought in additional workers via the Guestworker Program. Although those who arrived as part of the program were only there temporarily, the effects are still felt today. The program requires that companies compensate workers with certain wages and that they also provide a certain type of housing, both of which were significantly higher and more reasonable than what seasonal workers were receiving.

One of the biggest issues that the seasonal workers have is how they are paid compared with the guest workers. Guest workers are paid an hourly wage, whereas seasonal workers who have returned to the company year after year are paid based on the weight of the produce they have picked. Some workers contend that Sakuma Brothers routinely under-weighs harvests and pays its seasonal workers far less than minimum wage. The company has denied these allegations.

Sakuma is currently considering a union contract for its seasonal workers, although it does not appear as if any significant headway has been made. It is not uncommon for employment disputes to span significant lengths of time, especially when Massachusetts companies are reluctant to increase wages or expand worker protections. Workers who stay committed to seeking justice for themselves and for others in similar circumstances can typically achieve better compensation, working conditions and other protections.

Source: boiseweekly.com, "The Workers Who Pick Your Summer Berries Are Asking You Not to Buy Them", Natasha Varner, July 22, 2016

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