Farmers, workers and cultivating dignity

  • By the Revs. Josefina Beecher and Paul Benz
  • Monday, August 19, 2013 3:19pm
  • OpinionCommentary

Our valley is home to many, many farm workers who provide labor for our farmers and help make this community thrive from the produce of our land. These workers have been welcomed into our community for decades, bringing their families each year and tending to the hard work of nature’s harvest. Many members of our community have come to our valley as migrant workers and stayed here to raise their families. Whether they are migrant or resident workers, these workers do the back-breaking jobs necessary for the success of the local economy. They deserve to be treated with respect.

This season a few hundred workers at Sakuma Bros. Farms stood up and spoke out about harsh treatment, poor living conditions and the threat of more guest workers being invited into the county, which threatens to disrupt their already precarious livelihoods.

These workers have justifiable complaints and they brought attention to their needs in a peaceful and respectful way. They assembled, used their freedom of speech and used the only tool they have at their disposal; they withheld their labor to draw attention to their cause.

As part of the faith community, we call on both sides to negotiate in good faith, respecting the opinions of all the affected workers and respecting the farm owners just as they expect to be respected. We support the struggle for a living wage. We hope both parties can reach an agreement that will allow workers and their families to work for the remainder of the season.

We appreciate the farmers in our valley and understand the tremendous pressures they are under to produce quality harvests while dealing with ever-increasing production costs. It is a business that is full of unexpected crises and so many of the conditions are out of farmers’ direct control. However, employers can control how they treat the people who work for them. We trust that the Sakuma Brothers will continue to work with the mediator that is now being used to help determine the path forward in terms of wages and working conditions for the rest of this season — which will lay a good foundation for successful seasons to come.

As people of faith we share a vision of a new community where justice and human dignity reign. We pray for the workers and farmers as they deliberate a just outcome to this conflict.

The Rev. Josefina Beecher, with the Episcopal Church, is retired. The Rev. Paul Benz, a Snohomish County resident, is co-chair of the Washington State Faith Action Network.

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