MOUNT VERNON — A Skagit County Superior Court judge again found in favor of farm workers Tuesday morning, saying that Sakuma Bros. Farms’ policies prohibiting visitors to worker cabins, as well as other rules, must be removed from employee handbooks.
Rules in the farm’s employee and housing handbooks banned visitors to worker cabins, except attorneys, and restricted distribution of literature and solicitation during working times and on farm property, which included worker camps.
Those rules violated Washington’s Little Norris-La Guardia Act and tenant common law, serving to chill workers’ rights to organize and to live as normal tenants might, Superior Court Judge Susan K. Cook said in her ruling.
But Cook did agree to allow the farm to ask for visitors’ names, who they are there to see, and to create a “do not enter” list for past troublemakers.
“I do think Sakuma has a legitimate interest in keeping track of who comes there,” Cook told the courtroom. “The company is entitled to know who’s on their property and they’re entitled to set a curfew.”
Kathy Barnard, one of two attorneys for the workers’ union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, argued against allowing the farm to ask visitors who they are visiting as it may allow farm managers to monitor union organizing efforts.
Cook compromised on the issue, allowing that the farm could ask if a visitor is there to see a relative or is simply a union organizer wishing to distribute pamphlets or is an attorney, but the farm did not necessarily need to ask for more details than that.
The two sides spent all day Monday in court arguing the matter. Attorneys called a number of witnesses to the stand, with Familias’ attorneys trying to establish how the rules chilled worker rights and Sakuma’s attorney arguing that the rules were moot as the season was over. Further, the rules were meant for safety and were similar to rules in years past, Sakuma’s attorney, Adam Belzberg, argued.
Belzberg requested a bond of $5,000 to $10,000 from Familias Tuesday to cover any potential costs arising out of what he called “opening the floodgates” to the farm, which could lead to increased liability, as well as the cost of reprinting handbooks, he said.
After some argument back and forth between Barnard and Belzberg, Cook agreed to a $2,500 bond.
The preliminary injunction granted by Cook has no expiration date other than that it will last until a trial on the merits of the issue is held, though when that would be was unclear.
The two sides are making oral arguments for summary judgment today regarding a clause in the employee contract that Familias argues is aimed at prohibiting union membership. Another hearing date is set for Nov. 6 regarding a countercomplaint from Sakuma that says the union misrepresented the employee clause to discourage workers from applying to the farm.