Category Archives: Events and Highlights Archive

Members Convene in Nayarit to Prepare for FLOC Convention

Nayarit Meeting

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.

Isidro Castro

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.”

 

 

Songs for Justice Benefit Concert

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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.

After 26 years in the fields, Pablo is determined to see change

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Pablo is sharing his story as part of our “Voces: Somos FLOC/ Voices: We Are FLOC” campaign to highlight stories from our members to raise funds and build awareness to support the important organizing work our members are doing in the fields. Please consider making a donation today to support this campaign.


Haz clic aquí para leer la historia de Pablo en Español.

When Pablo first came to the US to work in the fields, he landed in rural Virginia. It was 1990, and he remembers the first grower he worked for taking him and his coworkers to the store to buy them all envelopes, notebooks, and pens to write letters home to their families. “We used to finish work and go back to the camp and write letters to our families, sometimes three or four a week,” he says.

DSC_0602_600x400Pablo worked in the fields of Virginia for 18 years. Then in 2009, he was sent to work in North Carolina, an experience he will never forget. “The grower was violent,” he recalls, “he screamed at us, and everyone was afraid of him.” It was common knowledge that the grower kept a gun in his truck, and while he never openly threatened anyone with it, the message was clear: do your work and don’t complain.

In 2013, he landed at a farm in Louisburg, NC, where he was offered extra work driving the van of workers to and from work and between the fields each day. When he noticed he wasn’t being paid for the extra hours spent driving, he confronted the grower. But the grower refused to pay. Feeling like he had no other option, Pablo continued driving for the rest of the season, but was never paid for his time. He wasn’t offered employment at that farm the following year, a move which Pablo is sure was a result of him questioning his pay.

Earlier this year, through a routine union visit at Pablo’s camp, Pablo learned that because he was covered by FLOC’s union contract, he had the right to file a complaint about the wages stolen from him in 2013. He filed the grievance, and immediately signed up to be a member of FLOC.

Last month Pablo won his grievance, and he and another worker who also drove the van received thousands of dollars in back wages.


DSC_0599_800x1200Each year, FLOC members gather for regional meetings where members like Pablo learn how to use the union contract to protect themselves at work, and strategize ways to continue building union membership and power.

Will you donate to help raise the funds needed to make sure workers can come to the meetings and participate in their union? A donation of $25 will sponsor a worker who wants to participate in the meeting.

Pablo says he joined the union because he wants to see workers get a fair share of the wealth in agriculture. “The growers invest a lot of money. But it’s us, the workers, who plant and harvest that money. They invest a lot of money, but we invest our time. We deserve good pay.”

For years, Pablo has watched growers exploit and silence workers on the various farms where he has worked, and now he is determined to do something to change it. He works tirelessly educating his coworkers about their rights under the union contract, and encouraging workers to speak up when there is a problem.

“When worker’s voices aren’t heard, when they say we don’t get to have an opinion, that is the same as saying that we are slaves,” he says. “The slaves didn’t have a voice or a vote. They worked and worked, and if they spoke out they were mistreated.”

Now, Pablo is a union leader at his camp. He just attended his first union meeting where workers received training on their rights under the contract, and strategized how to oPablo at members meetingrganize their coworkers and build the union. At the meeting, Pablo presented his case to over 50 workers as an example of why having a strong union and grievance procedure is so important. He’s not shy when it comes to encouraging others to become members. “I invite everyone to join the union and make complaints about problems,” he said at the meeting. “If we stay quiet then we are siding with the person who is doing wrong.”

Members like Pablo need your support to continue fighting for safe, humane working conditions, fair pay, and union rights. 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.

NC Members gather to train leaders and build union

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August 2, 2016

(Español abajo)

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On Sunday, over 50 members from more than 15 different labor camps across Eastern North Carolina came together to participate in the first 2016 regional meeting for union members covered by the FLOC and NCGA (North Carolina Growers Association) contract.

In the first half of the meeting, members and FLOC staff reported on recent grievances that members have won, updates on the Reynolds tobacco campaign, and updates on the current FLOC/NCGA contract negotiations. Members also voted unanimously to approve the financial report. In the second half of the meeting, members chose to participate in one of two training groups: “How to Organize Your Co-Workers” and “How to Resolve Common Grievances” to empower themselves to act as union representatives on their farms. Members left the meeting committed to sharing what they had learned and use it to make the union even stronger.

Many thanks to the volunteers who helped transport members and make this meeting possible!

Photo credit for all photos: Alex Jonas

This is union democracy in action! Check out this video of the breakout sessions during the meeting:

Este domingo, más de 50 miembrxs de más de 15 ranchos distintos por la parte este de Carolina de Norte se juntaron para participar en la primera junta regional de 2016 para miembrxs protegidxs por el contrato colectivo entre FLOC y la NCGA (Asociación de Rancheros). En la primera mitad de la junta, miembrxs escucharon de sus propixs compañerxs y representantes de FLOC acerca de las quejas que se ha ganado recientemente, actualizaciones de la campaña tabacalera con Reynolds y actualizaciones de las negociaciones pendientes del nuevo contrato colectivo entre FLOC y la NCGA. Además, miembrxs votaron unánimemente para aprobar el reporte financiero. En la segunda parte de la junta, miembrxs eligieron participar en uno de dos grupos de entrenamiento: “Como Se Puede Organizar Sus Compañeros” y “Como Se Puede Resolver Quejas Típicas” para empoderar a si mismos para actuar como representantes del sindicato en sus ranchos. Al fin de la junta, los miembros comprometieron a compartir la información que habían aprendido y usarla para fortalecer el sindicato.

High Risk And Low Reward: Rafael’s Story

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Rafael is sharing his story as part of our “Voces: Somos FLOC/ Voices: We Are FLOC” campaign to highlight stories from our members to raise funds and build awareness to support the important organizing work our members are doing in the fields. Please consider making a donation today to support this campaign.


Rafael is no stranger to hard labor. In his home state of Michocan, Mexico, he worked in the hot sun every day building houses. The work was difficult, but necessary to support his large family. If you ask Rafael about his family, he smiles with pride and says, “I have thirty grandchildren!”

Nine years ago he crossed the US border to join his son harvesting oranges in Florida. “The first day was so hot. Then I went back the next day, and it was the same. I thought ‘this work isn’t for me.’” But Rafael had already crossed the border, and despite the heat and horrendous working conditions, he’s spent the past nine years working the fields from Florida to North Carolina.

Rafael’s work in the fields came to an abrupt halt last season when his left hand was crushed by a machine that was laying plastic in the fields. “Nobody really knew how to use the machine,” he recalls. “I screamed when my hand got pulled in, and they had to figure out how to put the machine in reverse so I could get my hand out. But my hand was already broken.” He’s wasn’t the only worker to be injured by this machine. “Two weeks after I got hurt, I saw a guy get caught underneath the same machine. He was hurt really badly, I remember there was blood in his eyes. Nobody even took him to the doctor.”

Your donation to the “Voces: Somos FLOC” project goes directly to support workers like Rafael, who are organizing to fight for safer working conditions in the fields. Click here to support this important work.

1200x800Rafael had to have surgery on his hand, and just one week after the stitches were taken out, a supervisor came to his house and told him if he didn’t go to work, he would be fired. “I went, but it was really hot. And right away my hand got really red and swollen.” After that first day back at work the pain was unbearable, but so was the pressure to continue working. Even though he hadn’t been cleared by his doctor to return to work, Rafael’s supervisor moved him to the “bodega,” or work shed, and told him to try a different type of work.

Two weeks later, he was told to leave his employer owned housing. He was forced to move in with his daughter, which was much farther from where he worked. Finally, a supervisor told Rafael that they didn’t have any work he could do with one arm.

Rafael’s injury might have ended his field work, but it opened a new door for him: getting involved with the union. Rafael understands the importance of organizing and coming together to demand fair treatment. “Once [while working] in the sweet potatoes, the grower didn’t want to pay us the right amount. A coworker said to me, ‘what are we going to do?’ I told him, ‘we’re all going to go together and tell [the grower] what he needs to pay us.’”

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In the fields, he says, “It’s hard. In the sweet potato harvest, it’s normal to see people faint. Sometimes it’s because nobody brings them any water.”

But Rafael is determined to work to change the dangerous conditions that so many farmworkers face each day. After his injury, he met with a FLOC organizer who helped him fill out worker’s compensation paperwork to ensure that his medical bills would be paid, and that he had a small stipend to survive on while his hand is healing.

In May, Rafael went to his first union rally in Winston Salem, North Carolina, in support of FLOC’s campaign to organize thousands of farmworkers throughout the South and press tobacco manufacturers to recognize farmworkers’ right to freedom of association. Since then he has also attended membership meetings and trainings to continue organizing with others in his community. “This work is important,” says Rafael. “Having the information in Spanish is especially important, because some of us don’t think we have rights in the US and we never have the time to learn.”

Members like Rafael need your support to continue fighting for safe, human working conditions, fair pay, and union rights. 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.

Voces: Jackkie’s Story

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Jackkie is sharing her story as part of our new “Voces: Somos FLOC/ Voices: We Are FLOC” campaign to highlight stories from our members to raise funds and build awareness to support the important organizing work our members are doing in the fields. Please consider making a donation today to support this campaign. 


 

Meet Jackkie. She’s 18, and out of all of the obstacles she has overcome in her life as a young worker, her greatest victory is graduating from high school this year. It’s a big moment for her whole family, especially for her mom. As Jackkie’s mom pins on her graduation cap and Jackkie steps back into the tobacco field for a picture, she tells us why this is moment is so important: “My mom walked across the border so that I could walk across the graduation stage.”

DSC_0552_smallJackkie’s earliest memory of the fields is sitting next to her mom and snacking on blueberries while her mom was picking. Jackkie and her 4 siblings all spent time in the fields with their mom, and all learned the work at an early age.

Jackie started working in the fields for the same reason many other young people do: she wanted to help her family. She watched her single mom, exhausted and sore from field work, struggle to work and take care of her family of five every day. “I used to wish I could just sit with my mom and talk when I got home from school, like a lot of my friends did. But usually my sister would feed us, and by the time my mom got home from the fields around 8 or 9:00, she was so tired…she would take a shower and go straight to bed.”

So one day, Jackkie put on her own gloves and began to work in the tobacco fields. The work was hard, but it gave her the one thing she felt she was missing: time with her mom.

Donate today to support the organizing work our members like Jackkie are doing.

Jackkie’s first run at field work didn’t go well. “I wanted to work, but my mom didn’t like it at all,” she recalls. “I got sick really quickly after I started working. I was nauseous and had a lot of pain in my stomach, so my mom pulled me out of tobacco and told me to go back to the blueberry fields.” She remembers quite a few kids working in the fields with her. “The crew leader would just pretend like he didn’t see us. He didn’t push us like he did the adults, and he would just give us a little money on the side.”

DSC_0569_web sizeAround 10 or 11, Jackkie took on harder work. “I used to rip up the black plastic covering from the fields at the beginning of the season. That’s when I started getting sick. The dirt would go in my nose and my mouth. I could taste it when I drank water. It was hard because you had to dig your hands into the dirt, use your nails to get under it, to pull it up…it would end up ripping my skin. And you had to be careful not to accidentally rip up the plants, or you would get in trouble. The boss would yell at you.”

Long days in the sun left Jackkie exhausted and in pain, with torn and dirty hands. But even more difficult than the physical injuries was the fear she felt every day in the fields. Barely a teenager, she faced threats and verbal abuse from older male supervisors. She watched people around her get sick from the work, some fainting and struggling without water. But the gripping fear of losing a paycheck kept her and many others silent. “I didn’t know anything about my rights. And [supervisors] knew that people didn’t know their rights. So they would tell us to do things, and threaten to take money out of our checks. I used to think, what if they make me leave and they don’t give me my money? What if they fire my mom and she can’t work anymore? How would we pay the bills?”

For a few years she worked every summer in the fields of Eastern North Carolina. She doesn’t remember exactly how many summers she worked, because the repetitive work days blur together in her memory now.

Until the day she decided to quit.

On a hot summer day, when Jackkie and her coworkers sat down in the shade for a water break, the contractor passed around a single cup of water. Everyone had to drink from the same cup, which was filled with yellow water and dirt. “I didn’t want to drink it, but I was so thirsty. Just looking at the cup, I thought, I don’t want to do this anymore. They don’t give us enough water, or bathrooms. I’m not a dog. I need water, and I need clean water.”

After Jackkie left the fields at 14 she started working in a pepper factory, where she still works today. The work is hot and repetitive, but there’s shade, and a real bathroom in the building – small things that feel like luxuries after field work. But at the factory, Jackkie found a whole new set of abusive rules: workers aren’t allowed to talk to the person next to them, and the supervisors threaten to fire workers who go to the bathroom too often. When she first started, no one was provided gloves, and many people broke out with a rash.

Then one day, Jackkie’s sister introduced her to FLOC, and Jackkie found the support and resources she needed to fight back against the awful working conditions and abusive supervisors in the factory.

DSC_0582_web sizeNow, at 18, Jackkie actively educates and organizes other workers in the pepper factory and in her community. “The bosses think I’m ignorant and not educated,” she says. “They still try to intimidate me but I tell them they can’t intimidate me because I know my rights. They can’t tell me I can’t go to the bathroom. That’s illegal.”

Earlier this year, a supervisor in the factory told Jackkie they weren’t going to pay her because she had lost the card uses to clock in and out. She immediately confronted management. “Yes you are going to pay me, because I worked,” she said. She also discovered that her and others are being underpaid, and is working with FLOC to push factory management to pay everyone the correct wages.

Now, Jackkie’s organizing work goes far beyond the factory. Last summer, Jackkie founded a youth organizing committee within FLOC called the FLOCMigos. The FLOCMigos are all youth who have worked in the fields, and are now coming together to learn about organizing and support local organizing campaigns to improve conditions in the fields. “We can all relate [to each other], we’ve all been through a lot of the same things. We know the same struggle.”

Earlier this year, the FLOCMigos went to DC for a demonstration in support of FLOC’s campaign to organize thousands of tobacco farmworkers throughout the South. It was Jackkie’s first big demonstration, and when you ask her about it her eyes light up and you can feel her excitement. “I was the one with the loudest voice, so I was chanting and yelling. I liked the fact that everybody was looking at us, but not because we were doing something wrong. Because we were doing something really good.”

Donate today to support the FLOCMigos and their organizing work.

FLOCMigos in DC

 

Black Lives Matter To FLOC

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FLOC mourns the loss of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and we honor their lives by standing beside our black brothers and sisters fighting for black lives to be valued, respected, and protected. We are proud to be a part of a movement building black and brown solidarity, and today I am recommitting myself personally and FLOC to continue working with other unions and community organizations to build understanding and solidarity.

In our own community, the FLOC Homies Union, a youth organizing committee based out of FLOC’s Toledo office, is working to improve relations between the Toledo police and the local community. The Homes have been working with the Toledo Police Department to negotiate a code of conduct to foster honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior, and treatment that recognizes the value of every life.

Several members of the Homies Union have been the targets of police discrimination, and have been wrongly accused of being gang members. We want police to protect us, and not look at us as automatic suspects on the street.

Read more about the FLOC Homies Union here.

“We want the police to protect us, and not be looked upon as automatic suspects when they see us on the streets,” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez.

Watch the news report on the FLOC Homies work with Toledo Police.

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Philando Castile was also a part of our labor community. He was a member of Teamsters Local 320, and a beloved staff member at the school where he worked.
Now is the time when solidarity matters most in this movement for justice. I hope you’ll join us in standing with our black brothers and sisters as we all fight for a country where traffic stops don’t end in death.

 

FLOC Homies Union Organizes Women’s Empowerment March in Toledo

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June 6, 2016

“When enough of us stand together and speak out, we can make changes happen. Young women like myself have a fundamental right to our personal safety. Schools and other institutions are not doing enough to protect that safety.” -Billi, Homies member

DSC_7733_web 4On Saturday, Toledo community members and organizations, including YWCA and AAUW, joined the FLOC Homies Union for a Women’s Empowerment March to raise awareness of sexual harassment and abuse toward women, empower women to speak out about these issues, and encourage institutions like the Toledo Public Schools to address these issues in a meaningful way.
Harley Foore, a member of the FLOC Homies Union, spoke at the rally following the march. “When The Homies first got together as a class, we began talking about issues that we saw in our community,” said Foore. “We quickly discovered that all of the girls in the class had at one point or another been harassed on the street or in our school…this made us feel unsafe and kept us from walking anywhere by ourselves.”

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Homies member Billi Zimmerman leads the march

Billi Zimmerman, another Homies member, courageously spoke about her own experience with sexual harassment. “When I was in elementary school I was sexually harassed. I spoke up and nobody took me seriously. They thought I was lying. My principal told me that there was nothing she could do since there was no evidence. How can there be no evidence when the incident happened right in front of a camera? Why am I being called a liar and why not being believed especially when over half of girls will be sexually harassed in high school?”

One of the goals of the march was to press institutions like Toledo Public Schools to do more to keep women safe. Foore, a student at a Toledo high school noted, “Toledo Public Schools do not currently offer any training on sexual harassment or consent. They have nothing in the student handbook that talks about sexual harassment or consent. How is this acceptable?”

The Homies have scheduled a meeting with Toledo Public Schools superintendent Durant next week, and plan to ask him to begin talking to students about issues like sexual harassment, rape, and consent. “Ultimately we want him to start listening to the female students at his school, and to take their concerns seriously,” says Foore.

Sen. Jackson silent on wage theft charges as group delivers 10,000 name petition

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May 31, 2016

“We only asked for what is ours and for what the law says: that we should get paid and that the supervisor stop abusing people. We don’t deserve to lose our jobs for speaking out.” -Valentin, blacklisted worker from Jackson’s farm

NC Senator Brent Jackson has been the target of thousands of emails, tweets, and Facebook messages over the past few weeks, all in support of seven farmworkers who came forward and spoke out about wage theft, unjust firing, and retaliation on his farm.

[photo credit: Phil Fonville]
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The pressure on Jackson increased last Thursday, when a group of faith leaders, labor leaders and community allies gathered for a press conference and then delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures to the Senator’s office in Raleigh, calling on him to reinstate the seven farmworkers he illegally blacklisted for speaking out against labor abuses, and pay them the wages they are owed.

“We began to notice that the grower and supervisor would steal our wages by clocking us out for anything they could, like changing fields, waiting for equipment to come, or water breaks. Little by little, this added up and by the end of the season he had stolen thousands of dollars from our wages,” said Valentin Alvarado Hernandez in a statement read at the press conference on his behalf.

SONY DSCShortly before the General Assembly was set to convene, Senator Jackson was predictably absent as a delegation delivered the petition to his office. Julie Taylor, Executive Director of the National Farm Worker Ministry, handed the petition to Jackson’s staff, who thanked the group for bringing forward their concerns, but made no commitment to remedy the issue.

The next day, a Univision reporter approached Jackson at his farm to ask him about the case. “Do you speak English?” a visibly nervous Jackson asked the reporter, before refusing to comment on the case.

Watch the full Univision report here (en Espanol).

Throughout the week, people from all over the country called out Jackson’s inexcusable treatment of farmworkers via social media, and supported the workers’ demands for reinstatement and payment of stolen wages.

We know that the retaliation on Jackson Farms is not uncommon. At the press conference on Thursday, Justin Flores, FLOC Vice President noted that this case is evidence of a much larger problem in agriculture, where farmworkers who speak out have little protection against retaliation. “This example shows how farmworkers are very aware that if they speak up about violations, there are often very real consequences, including blacklisting,” said Flores. “However, growers aren’t the only responsible party. Tobacco giants such as Reynolds American, Philip Morris International, and Alliance One continue to make huge profits, while refusing to sign an agreement with FLOC that would guarantee labor rights and the right to complain without fear of retaliation.”

Thanks to everyone who stood with the blacklisted workers at Jackson Farms last week. There will be updates coming shortly on next steps to hold Senator Jackson accountable and win justice for the seven workers.

Hundreds Rally at Reynolds After Audit Finds Serious Abuses on Reynolds Farms

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May 5, 2016

FLOC members and allies took over Winston Salem streets for the eighth time at Reynolds American’s annual shareholders meeting, calling on the company to guarantee freedom of association throughout their supply chain and ensure farmworkers have a safe grievance procedure to voice and remedy complaints. This year, FLOC’s focus was on a recent report of child labor and other serious violations on Reynolds contract farms.

Check out this slideshow of pictures from the event!

Just one day before the shareholders meeting, Reynolds released its 2015 farm audit report, which evaluates contract farms on compliance with legal standards. The audit found cases of children under 13 working on Reynolds contract farms, minors below age 16 illegally performing hazardous work, serious safety violations, such as improper safety equipment when working in the tobacco barns, and inadequate reporting of workplace accidents. Interviews with workers uncovered wage violations, noted that a percentage of the workers interviewed did not feel they could come and go as they please, and found that 25% of growers were not providing legally required documentation to workers, such as information on wage rates, transportation, and housing.

The documentation of these problems, which Reynolds has denied for years, confirms what FLOC has been telling the company since 2007: the tobacco industry is guilty of turning a blind eye to child labor, dangerous working conditions, and many other abuses for far too long.  

picket 1_medAt 9:00am, 40 farmworkers and FLOC supporters went into the Reynolds meeting to talk face to face with company executives about the audit, and the company’s lack of action on labor issues over the past few years.

Ten of those who went inside were youth, and most had previously worked in tobacco.  For the first time, Reynolds leaders had to listen to the testimonies of the child farmworkers that they claim don’t exist.  One of the workers shared his story of having to work in tobacco fields during the summers after watching his single mom struggle to pay the bills and support him and his brother. “Will you sign an agreement with FLOC that will guarantee a living wage, so that children don’t have to work in the fields to help support their families?” he challenged Reynolds’ leaders. Stunned by his emotional testimony, no one answered his question.

There is no doubt that increased focus on auditing and addressing these issues is a result of pressure from FLOC and allies. Inside the shareholders meeting, CEO Susan Cameron focused a large part her remarks on FLOC and labor issues.

However, the company continues to try to sweep labor issues under the rug, and even went so far as to say that the fact that they found only a few cases of child labor in the fields means that the audits are working. FLOC President Velasquez says he thought the meeting went well, and that he sees Reynolds shifting their strategy and beginning to acknowledge that problems do exist on their farms.

“I was encouraged by the fact that Cameron’s report finally addressed the long avoided issue of Freedom of Association. While it signaled a seismic shift in the company’s public response to our concerns, we still have to be guarded because of their tendency to push for cosmetic remedies, like increased trainings, over solving fundamental inequalities.” Said  Velasquez.

Following the picket at Reynolds, the crowd marched through Winston Salem and gathered in a nearby park to hear from others who have worked in the fields. Francisco, along with several other young farmworkers, shared his story with the crowd:

“I’m 17 and have been working in the tobacco and sweet potato fields since I was 10. We work a lot of times from 6am to 8pm, there are no bathrooms in the fields and most of the time we’re getting paid $7.25. This is hard work and they make us work in the rain and other harsh conditions. We see a lot of people get nose bleeds and other injuries and we have nothing to clean ourselves with and can’t leave the field because we don’t have our own transportation, so we wind up just going back to work.”

Reynolds heard us loud and clear: There are more than a few children working in tobacco fields across the South, and the information from the small sample of workers that they spoke to in the audit only provides a brief glimpse into the harsh realities that farmworkers face in the fields each day. Little by little these stories and truths are coming into the spotlight, and Reynolds is being forced to confront the reality in the fields and recognizing that working with FLOC is necessary ensure that farmworkers’ basic human rights are protected.

Click here to see more photos

Many thanks to all of you who marched side by side with us in the cold, windy rain! Thanks to the National Farmworker Ministry, YAYA, Fight for 15, Black Workers for Justice, Working America, NC AFL-CIO, NC Field, Duke Cakalak Thunder, Duke Divinity ethics class, Factulty Forward NC, HOLA, and all of the members and supporters who rode the bus all the way from Ohio to be here for this event. Each year we see more progress, and we won’t stop fighting until we see an end to human rights abuses in tobacco fields.

 

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