Skagit berry grower ordered to offer housing to families

MOUNT VERNON — One of Washington’s largest berry growers must provide housing to farmworkers’ families, Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook ruled in a case involving Sakuma Bros. Farms.

“When the farmer provides housing, they have to comply with Washington housing law,” Cook said in her decision Thursday.

The case was brought by the group Familias Unidas por la Justicia after the farm announced earlier this year that nonworking family members would not be housed.

The labor group contended the no-families rule was retaliation for labor organizing activities, the Skagit Valley Herald reported.

The farm said it wasn’t retaliation, simply a lack of space. With enough housing for only about 400 people, Sakuma Bros. needed all the available space to house a sufficient workforce to harvest berry crops.

The grower will abide by the judge’s decision but its lawyer, Adam Belzberg, said he would appeal.

Sakuma Bros. co-owner Steve Sakuma said Tuesday he had concerns about going over maximum occupancy in the cabins.

“We have three-bunk and six-bunk cabins,” he said. “If a family is seven, they’re going to have to choose who’s going to live there.”

The decision could set the tone for other growers across the state, as no case dealing with the family housing issue has been before a Washington court, said Kathy Barnard, an attorney for Familias.

Familias president Ramon Torres says members will seek jobs at the farm as it continues to push for a contract and boycott Sakuma products.

Burlington-based Sakuma Farms was started in 1935 by Japanese immigrants and is still run by family members. They grow strawberries, raspberries and blueberries on Skagit Valley fields.

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