Victory for migrant berry pickers
4:07 p.m. Migrant farm workers got a big win Thursday: The Skagit County Superior Court ruled that Sakuma Brothers Farms must offer housing to berry pickers’ families. KPLU says the housing program was originally provided to all seasonal employees and their family members. But after workers staged a strike last year, the company announced a new policy barring families with children and married couples from using company quarters — a move that counted as housing discrimination and illegally punished workers for labor organizing, according to the Superior Court judge. Sakuma Farms plans to appeal but said it would abide by the ruling in the meantime. Just two weeks ago, Sakuma Brother Farms agreed to pay $850,000 to settle another case with its berry pickers over wage theft and insufficient rest breaks. — M.L.
JBLM cuts could sting
3:57 p.m. A new Army report reveals that potential cuts to Joint Base Lewis-McChord could strike a serious blow to South Sound economies if carried through, The Olympian reports. In a worse case scenario, the base could contract by 16,000 soldiers from its 2011 levels. That would result in a loss of $971 million in income for the area and $17.4 million in tax dollars for Pierce and Thurston Counties. “The potential elimination of thousands of military and civilian positions is devastating,” said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia. An Army spokesperson said the Pentagon likely would not cut the maximum amount stated in the report. — M.L.
Orcas still in decline
A NOAA study released this week found that Orcas’ limited growth is threatened by a variety of problems including lack of their main food source — Chinook salmon — industrial fishing, noise from boats and pollution. In the decade since the southern-resident killer whale was protected under the Endangered Species Act, scientists are still puzzled about why these whales are not recovering quicker from a big drop in numbers in the 1970s, after many were captured and placed in amusement parks. The most recent census count is 82 members.
“Part of what I hoped at the beginning was that it would be mostly one thing that was wrong,” NOAA fisheries expert Brad Hanson told The Seattle Times. “But they all appear to be intertwined.”
Mark Anderson, founder and president of Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, a non-profit organization aimed at reducing the death rates of killer whales, tells us that this information has been available for some time but no one is understanding or linking these three main causes. His organization is dedicated to creating a Whale Protection Zone on the west side of San Juan Island where no commercial motorized whale watch boats are allowed so that the southern resident killer whales have a space where they are protected from loud motors. And Orca Relief praised the report on several counts, including its mention of a protection zone as a way to help the orcas’ recovery. (Disclosure: Mark Anderson is related to one of Crosscut's editors.) — J.B.
Bellevue launches July toy-and-food drive
The Bellevue Firefighters Community Support Foundation and the Parks & Community Services Department are hosting "Joy in July,” a toy-and-food drive aimed at providing toys and food for children. Although the holidays are six months away, 6,000 toys have been distributed so far in 2014 and the shelves need restocking to provide more toys to children later this year.
The suggested donations include: new, unwrapped toys for infants, youth and teens, books, games, sports equipment, arts and crafts kits, cars/trucks, dolls and plush animals. Food donations are also included in this drive to feed children and families during the summer. With 1-in-5 children qualifying for free or reduced meals in the Bellevue School District, many families may find it more difficult to provide food while school is out. And the drive is a good chance to roll out that holiday spirit of giving early. Details are here. — J.B.
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