Author Archives: FLOC
FLOC’s fight to improve working and living conditions for tobacco workers has expanded into a global call for action
On January 30, FLOC President and Founder Baldemar Velasquez traveled to Yangon, Myanmar to invite agricultural unions to join FLOC in a global call to implement human rights for agricultural workers. While many tobacco companies like Reynolds American and British American claim to have protocols that protect farmworkers, they continuously move production to countries where it’s easier to exploit workers through lower wages and safety standards. During the World Conference of Agricultural Workers’ Unions, President Velasquez highlighted the need for all agricultural workers to fight together in an international effort to improve working conditions within the transnational supply chains of tobacco companies.
The global call began in 2016 in Malawi, Africa when union leaders from 8 tobacco growing countries in Africa and Latin American assembled with FLOC to discuss the problems that union members face. It quickly became clear that tobacco workers across the world deal with many of the same issues such as poverty wages, child labor, sexual harassment, lack of access to water, and job insecurity. In response to these issues and the failure of charity programs, trainings, and audits to have a meaningful effect on conditions in the fields, a declaration was drafted and adopted, initiating a global call for action. Specifically, the declaration calls on Reynolds American and other tobacco companies to guarantee the right to freedom of association by creating a practical mechanism that allows workers to negotiate the conditions of their labor without fear of being fired or retaliated against.
This week, the agricultural sector unions of the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations) officially ratified the declaration and vowed to fight together with FLOC for farmworker justice! The final version of the declaration and work plan will be presented to the IUF 27th Congress in Geneva in August.
[President Velasquez] said the global “call for action” represents a coordinated step toward protecting agricultural workers across the world, and he vowed to take international tobacco companies to task who won’t allow their laborers to organize.
“Each country, with the support of all the organized unions, will trigger an economic pressure on the tobacco companies to make good on freedom of association, the right to represent ourselves,” he said, adding union leaders are laying the groundwork for a global boycott of some tobacco distributors. “This will get their attention.”
“Toledo FLOC leader issues ‘call to action’”,Toledo Blade, Feb. 3, 2017
On Sunday, January 8 2017, union members gathered in Santiago Ixcuintla, Nayarit Mexico to kick off a new year of organizing. 2017 represents numerous significant landmarks for FLOC. This September, members from across the South and Midwest will come together for our quadrennial convention and 50th Founding Anniversary Celebration. Members began preparing for the convention by forming committees and starting conversations about what they want their union’s priorities to be for the next 4 years.
In the agricultural off season, members who come to the US with temporary agricultural visas return to their homes in Mexico. For many members who come from the state of Nayarit, their work in the fields doesn’t end just because they have left North Carolina. Nayarit, located on Western coast of Mexico, grows more tobacco than any other state in Mexico.
Union member Isidro Castro took FLOC representatives on a tour of tobacco fields in Nayarit. Isidro explains that while the work is the same, the pay and conditions are not. What members make in an hour in North Carolina, they make with a whole day’s work in Mexico. Working in the fields in Mexico also means working without the protection of a union. Health and safety violations, wage theft and child labor are common, and there is no grievance mechanism to address these issues.
During the membership meeting, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez explained the potential for FLOC’s tobacco campaign to end exploitation in the fields not just in the US, but also in Mexico. “It is time that we join with our counter-part workers in other countries and collectively press the tobacco companies to reflect dignity and respect throughout their global supply-chains.”
Thank you to all of the following donors who supported the 2016 Songs for Justice Benefit Concert. A special thanks to all of our volunteers and FLOC’s youth groups the FLOC Homies and FLOC Migos for helping to make the event a success.
Port Authority, Bruce Goldstein, Seamus Metress, Aron Velasquez, Baldemar and Sara Velasquez, Kate Jacobs, Christi & Aaron Wagner, Rick Velasquez, Historic South, Mary Templin, ABLE, Monica Morales, Duane and Maria Rodiguez Winter, Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center, Nick Wood, Peter Uvagi, Jon Richardson, Joe Balderas, Esther Guardiola, Elizabeth & Frankie Julian, Jack Kilroy, Mary Jane Flores, Judith Kincaid, Lourdes Santiago, Jon & Satya Curry, Oscar Sanchez, Jerry Ceille, Kathy Farber & Bill Armaline, Greater Northwest Ohio AFL-CIO, Toledo Public Library, Peter Uvagi, Sandra Cisneros, Ramon Perez, Ramon Deanda, Tiffany Kidd, Roman Arce, UAW, Lindsay Webb, Catherine Crowe, Jeremy Sprinkle, FLOC Migos, Tom Harris, Joni Rabinowitz, Marty & Dave Wagner, LIUNA Local 500, UU Universalists, Clearwater, FLA, Anitia Lopez, Justin Flores, Meliton & Esperanza Hernandez, Belia Spradlin, Dan Velasquez, Linda Weiderhold, Toledo Friends Meeting, David Shilling, Diana Coble, Tom & Lynn Nowel, Sesario & Lucy Duran, Elsa Barboza & Family, Molly Willbarger, Gary McBride, Raul Jimenez & Family, Mary Meyers and Glen Boatman
It’s not too late to donate to support farmworker and youth organizing. Click here to make a donation today.
FLOC and the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice are hosting the annual benefit concert on December 9th at the Jose Martinez Memorial Gallery in Toledo, OH. FLOC president, Baldemar Velasquez, will perform with the Aguila Negra Band. All proceeds from the evening will go to support youth and farmworker organizing programs like the FLOC Homies Union and FLOC Migos.
Please join us for an exciting evening and consider becoming a sponsor. All contributions made to FLOC’s education and training partner, CMWJ, are tax exempt. Checks can be made out to CMWJ and mailed to 1221 Broadway St. Toledo, OH 43609
$100 – Silver
$200 – Gold
$300 – Platinum
$500 – Underwriter for Justice
$1000 – Diamond Event Partner
In 2014, four members of FLOC courageously spoke out against issues at Burch Farms in Faison North Carolina, exposing violations that many of their coworkers were too afraid to speak about. They filed a lawsuit for multiple types of wage theft and other labor violations. Last month, the FLOC members negotiated a settlement that included a payment of $7,125 for each plaintiff as well as $40 for each worker for each season that they had worked for Burch from 2012 to 2014. In total, the grower agreed to pay over $200,000.
As part of the settlement, the workers won a 3-year collective bargaining contract which includes: just-cause termination, a pay raise to $10.72, a mechanism to file grievances through FLOC, and the right to be a union member and collectively bargain.
This contract was an important win for workers who were previously not covered by the FLOC-North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) Union Contract.
Where: Durham Central Park Cohousing Community
130 Hunt Street, Durham, NC
(Park in the Center for Senior Life lot directly across
Home-made Mexican food & Music by Sue Gilbertson,
Charlie Thompson & friends
(and no later than October 25th);
email Dave Austin at email@example.com
HELP Triangle Friends of Farmworker’s reach their goal of $4,000 raised to support FLOC and farm worker rights!!
Please contribute. Write a check to “Center for Migrant Worker Justice” (FLOC’s 501(c)(3) partner) and mail to: “Dave Austin; 130 Hunt St. Apt 407; Durham, NC 27701″ OR
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
4354 S U.S. 117 Alt Hwy, Dudley, NC 28333
5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Workshop in Spanish
Participants will learn to navigate college applications and understand the financial aid process. The workshop will include information about overcoming barriers to higher education, DACA status and preparing for success in college. Spanish-Language information and Refreshments will be provided.
For more information contact: Kayli Richter, College Adviser, 919-705-6060 (English)
¡Listos Para el Éxito!
Como prepararse para la Universidad y una Carrera
Miércoles, el 26 de octubre del 2016
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
4354 S U.S. 117 Alt Hwy, Dudley, NC 28333
De las 5:00 pm hasta las 7:00 pm
Taller en Español
Los participantes (nacidos aquí o no) aprenderán como navegar el sistema de aplicaciones para ir al Colegio y/o Universidad y como recibir ayuda financiera. Los talleres incluirán: como resolver los obstáculos y desafíos que enfrentan los estudiantes, el beneficio DACA, y como prepararse para el ingreso y éxito en la Universidad. ¡Información en español y Refrigerios!
Para más información: Donna Weaver, Coordinadora de Servicios en Español de NCSEAA,
919-799-3779 (texto o voz) o por email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sesario’s earliest memories of FLOC are of farmworkers walking out of the fields during the 1968 strike. “It happened so fast,” he remembers, “and we had something like $36 in the organization’s bank account. We did the strike on a farm where the grower was the president of an association representing growers in the area. A local union donated hot dogs and we had mariachis, and we did the 3 day strike right there on the grower’s property.” Even with few resources, Sesario says this first strike sent a powerful message: farmworkers were a force to be reckoned with. “The first strike really made us feel empowered. We were taking people right out of the fields, and it was really powerful.”
Sesario’s roots are in Texas, but he spent many of his early years traveling. Born in Crystal City, Texas, to a family of 10 children, Sesario remembers leaving school early some years to migrate north to work the fields. Sesario’s dad worked for a railroad company in Texas, but was able to make more money working in the fields in the summer. So, he took summers off to follow the “migrant stream”, a path from the South to the North migrants frequently traveled throughout the season to find field work. Sesario and his family first traveled all the way North to Minnesota, planting sugar beets, then moved on to North Dakota to work in the onion fields, and then return to Minnesota to harvest the sugar beets. Then they worked their way South to Oklahoma to pick cotton. “Being a large family, it was hard. We all had to help provide for the family.”
In 1947, Sesario’s family moved to Ohio, where they worked in the cucumber and tomato fields—the same fields that he would later work with FLOC to organize. After graduation from high school in 1958, Sesario joined the Army. He served for 8 years – 6 months as active duty, and then almost 7.5 years in the Reserves. Three of his brothers served in the military as well; one brother did a tour as a machine gunner during the Korean War. “A lot of Mexican-American families have family member who have served in the military,” he says. “It’s common to visit homes and see pictures of family members in their uniforms. They’re very proud of this service.” He says the Army gave him time to think about what he wanted to do with his life, and work toward a college degree.
The work ethic Sesario learned in the fields prepared him well as he entered his 20’s, pursued higher education and entered the job market. Sesario quickly became a “jack of all trades.” He studied psychology and sociology and earned an Associate’s Degree in social work. He studied labor history and various trades. He has worked repairing vending machines and televisions, and he has worked in factories, including a plant that makes pots and pans. He even worked on the instruments that check measurements on jet engines at Continental Aviation for a period of time, and tutored non-English speaking children. If Sesario didn’t know how to do a job, he quickly proved he could learn.
In 1968, he met Baldemar Velasquez, who at the time was just beginning to organize farmworkers in Ohio. Sesario listened as Velasquez spoke at a church gathering, and remembers thinking, “Wow, this guy can talk! He was charismatic, he was believable, and right away he convinced me to get involved.” Sesario and his brother, Ysidro, who was also organizing in the Latino community at that time, started visiting migrant labor camps and talking to farmworkers about FLOC. “Within a short period of time, we had worker meetings and workers were calling for a strike.”
That first strike solidified Sesario’s dedication to FLOC and to organizing, and for the next 10 years, Sesario worked with FLOC on the weekends, evenings, and in between jobs to continue to build a base of support in the fields and in the community. “We used to go house to house and invite people to a meeting on a Sunday, and hold the meeting in a park so people could bring their families. In those early days, we did a lot of politicizing, and we need to do more of that now. People have to hear about injustice again and again, until they get mad about it.”
Sesario’s wife, Lucy, and his two children, Sonja and Tony, were also involved in the organizing work. Sesario notes that women played an especially important role in the early years of FLOC’s organizing. “Lucy and I would go out to camps together and talk to people, and sometimes when I would talk to the men they would say things are fine. But when Lucy talked to the women, they would say, ‘We need help getting food stamps, and the bathrooms and showers in the camp are terrible!’” Lucy says she was able to connect on a personal level with the women, and they felt comfortable opening up to her about problems in the fields and in the camps. “The women not only worked in the fields, they also cooked at the camp, cleaned, and then got meals ready for the next day. They knew about all of the problems,” Lucy remembers.
In 1978, after years of slow progress and little noticeable improvement in field conditions, the union launched another massive strike. This time, after years of organizing in various counties around the state, more than 2,000 workers participated in the strike. “We drove in around in a huge caravan, and field by field workers joined the strike,” says Sesario. As the union grew, Sesario dedicated more and more of his time to the work. For a few years he ran the union’s co-op, which served as an organizing base foor the community. “It’s what gave me a lot of gray hairs,” he says. “I was there from 7:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night. I didn’t know anything about running a co-op, we just learned by doing.”
His effectiveness as an organizer came partly from his own work experience, having seen the difference between union and non-union jobs. “There’s a world of difference between union and non-union jobs,” he says. “When I worked for the vending machine company in Toledo, at first I was only making about $75 per week. Eventually I joined the Teamsters, because I saw that the union was fighting for higher wages. Pretty soon my weekly pay went up to over $100. I saw that being in a union was a good thing.”
He was also a proud member of UAW Local 12 during his time with Devilbiss, a manufacturing company in Toledo, OH. After 17 years with that company, he took a non-union manufacturing job making pots and pans. “After working a union job, it was so different. I had to fight management all by myself. Even though I learned how to advocate for myself from FLOC, the hardest part was that there was no union there.”
In 1999 after a broken hand ended his work at the plant, he began working full time for FLOC. He laughs as he remembers his first day in the office. “Some kid handed me some paper and pencils and showed me a computer, but the computer didn’t even work!” For the past 16 years, he has dedicated countless hours to organizing the community through the worker center in the FLOC office, working with immigrant workers to find jobs, navigate a complicated immigration system, translate when needed, and continue organizing workers in the camps.
Sesario has seen many changes in FLOC and in organizing over the years, and through all of the struggles he has only grown more passionate about organizing and expanding union rights. “Now days, you don’t have to fight as hard to get into the labor camps, like we had to before. Sometimes we couldn’t even get into the camps to talk to the workers without getting arrested. And today, more undocumented workers are a part of the fight. It was a lot harder before.”
Next year FLOC will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and Sesario is proud to say that he has been a part of all of the major historic moments in the union’s history. He says FLOC gave him opportunities he will never forget. “I was able to travel all over the world with FLOC — to Mexico, to meet with the leader of a Mexican farmworker union, to Russia, to Czechoslovakia, to Libya, to Cuba. I met Fidel, and his brother took us out to the new farmworker camps in Cuba.”
Today, Sesario is 78 years old, but you’d never know it by how quickly he can fill a bus of community members to head to a union event.
Help us honor Sesario and his nearly 50 years of work with FLOC, by supporting the “Voces: Somos FLOC” campaign.
Will you donate $25, $50, $75, or whatever you’re able to support member organizing? You can easily donate online here, or send a check to 1221 Broadway St. Toledo, OH 43609. Thank you for your generous support!
FLOC holds three regional membership meetings each year where our members come together for updates on union campaign activity, continued training on rights under their union contract, and to build organizing efforts throughout the state.
Our Triangle Regional Meeting will be held at 3pm on September 25, 2016. Transportation is one of the biggest barriers in workers being able to attend these meetings. If you are free on 9/25 and willing to help a pick up and drop off a member, contact email@example.com, or 919-731-4433.
Exact location TBD soon.