Category Archives: Recent Events

Gov. Cooper Signs Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Worker Bill in NC

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Only a few weeks ago during meetings with worker and immigrant rights organizations, NC Governor Roy Cooper committed to support workers and veto anti-immigrant bills. His promise was put to the test when the NC Legislature passed S615, a bill sponsored by farmers elected to the NC General Assembly that aims to stop FLOC from continuing our efforts to improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers. Despite numerous requests from labor and immigrant rights organizations and other social justice NGOs for a veto, Governor Cooper signed S615 on July 13.

The amendment sponsor, Rep. Dixon, himself a farmer, was asked about why he feared farmworkers would join unions when there are already anti-union laws in place and replied, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” clarifying without a doubt his intention to stifle workers’ right to freedom of association and speech.

“Gov. Cooper chose to be on the wrong side of history, supporting the continuation of racist Jim Crow-era laws aimed at keeping immigrant farmworkers from achieving equal rights and ending abuses in the fields. It is a shame that this Democrat and others refuse to stand on the side of the most marginalized working poor and the immigrant workers that keep this state’s economy afloat.”

- President Baldemar Velasquez

However, the fight is not yet over. We plan to challenge this bill in the courts. Please join us for a press conference next Tuesday, July 18 at the Governor’s office in Raleigh, NC to discuss next steps to stop this bill’s implementation. More details coming soon!

Kale Farmworkers Settle Lawsuit against Teachey Produce!

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Four migrant farmworkers, with the assistance of FLOC, recently settled a class action lawsuit with Teachey Produce in Rose Hill, NC! The farmworkers were compensated for wage theft, health and safety violations, and retaliatory discharge despite the Teachey Brothers using immigration threats to try to silence them.

On June 24, 2016, Pedro went to pick corn for Teachey Produce. When he got to the field, he realized there was no water despite dangerously high temperatures. That day, he had a heat stroke and had to be hospitalized. What made the situation worse was that the Teacheys then refused to file a workman’s comp claim or help Pedro with the hospital bill that was equivalent to almost a whole season’s worth of Pedro’s wages.

On another occasion, Floricel Morales-Cruz spent a day picking kale and packaging it into boxes. After an entire day’s work, the Teacheys dumped the kale onto the ground, told him that it wasn’t good enough, and refused to pay him for his work. Meanwhile, Victoria Hernandez and Florencio Jose-Ambrosio also worked picking kale and were paid per bucket, but experienced unauthorized deductions from their checks without explanation.

The four migrant farmworkers worked with FLOC organizers to try to settle the dispute informally; however, after the Teacheys responded by threatening to call ICE, the workers decided to file a class action lawsuit together against Teachey Produce. Later, during the mediation of the claims, the plaintiffs were told that they were “wetbacks” and would be “kicked back to Mexico.” Despite the threats, a settlement was reached, and in total, Teachey Produce will pay over $60,000 to resolve all claims!

“Unfortunately, this case is not an isolated incident in Southern agriculture, especially during the Trump presidency. We’re happy we could assist these workers in standing up for their rights and getting what was owed to them. We’ll do everything we can to assist more workers in joining together to face these problems collectively.” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez.

Click here to read about another recent win for farmworkers in NC!

Remembering 50 Years of Struggle: FLOC ft. Sandra Cisneros!

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Featuring Sandra Cisneros
Wednesday, May 31 / 6 – 8:30 p.m.
Main Library, 325 Michigan St.

Join FLOC
 along with special guest, acclaimed author Sandra Cisneros, for its 50th anniversary celebration.
 
This free event will include:
  • A reception at 6 p.m.
  • A performance of labor songs by Aguila Negra 
  • A remembrance of pivotal events and the contributions of community and religious supporters
  • A presentation by author Sandra Cisneros
About the Author:
Sandra Cisneros is the internationally renowned author of The House on Mango StreetCarameloWoman Hollering CreekHave You Seen Marie?and most recently, A House of My Own. She has received the MacArthur Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and is also the founder of the Macondo Foundation, the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation, and Los MacArturos (the Latino MacArthur Fellows).
 
Books by Sandra Cisneros will be sold by Friends of the Library for the author to sign.
 
 
For more information, please contact:
419.243.3456, ext. 2

FLOC Pushes PMI to Help Blacklisted Workers

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In October 2015, 8 tobacco farm workers decided to speak out against pervasive wage theft and intimidation on their farm in Newton Grove, NC where they were employed through the Farm Labor Contractor Jr. Perez. After the workers spoke to auditors from the tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) as well as the US Department of Labor about the issues and saw no results, they collaborated with FLOC to stage a work stoppage to recover their stolen wages. The workers were then retaliated against and blacklisted by Jr. Perez, who continues to deny them employment.

PMI boasts having higher labor standards than most tobacco companies including freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for workers in their supply chain, but when FLOC has pressed them on how these standards apply to real life situations, they are silent. To date, PMI has not informed FLOC of any actions taken to protect and defend the 8 workers who risked their livelihoods to fix inequities in PMI’s supply chain.

“Scripture instructs us in 1 John 3:18, ‘…not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’ This is what we Faith Leaders from different traditions in New York City have and are asking of PMI and their suppliers. Not merely to write an ALP [Agricultural Labor Practices Code] but to have it placed into action so that unethical Farm Labor Contractors like Jr. Perez will be unable to blacklist individuals.”- Reverend Luis-Alfredo Cartagena

On May 3, 2017 during PMI’s shareholders meeting in New York, President Velasquez and New York religious leaders questioned PMI on their lack of response to the blacklisting of the 8 FLOC members. They also presented a resolution that would allow PMI to fix systemic issues in their supply chain and empower more workers to come out of the shadows.

“None of the steps PMI has taken constitute an independent grievance mechanism. They are all paid for and financed by PMI. FLOC has continuously shown that corporate funded grievances mechanisms don’t work; we need an independent process for workers to report and resolve issues like wage theft, intimidation, retaliation, and child labor.” – President Velasquez

In response, PMI Chairman Camilleri stated that they would work with both the Farm Labor Practices Group as well as FLOC to create a proper grievance mechanism that would transform their written policies into real tools that workers can use to correct labor violations. PMI needs to act fast, not just for the 8 workers blacklisted by Jr. Perez, but for all farmworkers who face human rights abuses but are silenced by the threat of retaliation.

FLOC speaks out against abuses in BAT supply chain

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Earlier this year, BAT announced that they will pay $49 Billion to acquire Reynolds American Inc. and become the world’s biggest tobacco company. 

Leaders of FLOC challenged British American Tobacco (BAT) during their Annual General Meeting (AGM) in London, UK about their failure to be transparent and take concrete action despite numerous reports detailing human rights abuses on BAT contract farms. 2017 marks the 7th year that FLOC has attended the shareholders meeting. During the 2014 AGM, BAT Chairman Richard Burrows claimed that there were no labor or human rights violations in the BAT supply chain. Since then, independent research groups including SwedWatch and Human Rights Watch have published reports detailing serious human rights abuses on BAT contract farms in Bangladesh and Indonesia respectively, echoing what FLOC has been reporting for years from the fields of North Carolina. In BAT’s own corporate audit report, they admitted instances of worker death by heat stroke, workers being sprayed by pesticides, and poor housing conditions, among other issues.

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Vice President Flores speaks out during the 2017 BAT AGM

In response to FLOC’s 10-year campaign demanding freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for tobacco farmworkers, BAT has responded with cosmetic approaches including corporate audits. During the AGM, President Velasquez asked when BAT would stop relying on questionable auditing companies and address the real systemic issues.

 

After the meeting, FLOC leaders met directly with BAT executives to discuss the issues and real solutions in more depth. While BAT has stated they want to work with FLOC to resolve issues in the BAT supply chain, these human rights violations will continue until BAT agrees to guarantee freedom of association and implement a practical mechanism that allows farmworkers to denounce abuses and act as their own auditors!

thumbnail_IMG_20170426_123906President Velasquez proposes solutions to BAT representatives

 

 

Click here to read about the global call, uniting tobacco workers in a global fight for justice. 

“We are the strength of the union”

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For the last 9 years, union members have gathered in Monterrey before the start of the growing season to sharpen their skills as union leaders and organizers and discuss the union’s strategy on key issues. This leadership training plays a crucial role in empowering members with the necessary tools and knowledge to tackle the issues that they’ll confront when they arrive in the fields of North Carolina.

Training topics included: identifying and filing grievances, using the workers compensation procedure, participation in the union’s democratic process, negotiating for better benefits and pay, and supply chain strategies to improve conditions on farms.

“I see this meeting as the start of the organizing work in North Carolina. We get together with the most active and involved members to cover important topics, make a plan, and learn things that we’ll use in NC to improve the conditions in the camps and encourage other workers to join the union.”

 

Vice President Justin Flores

This year’s training on March 18 and 19 laid the groundwork for the 2017 quadrennial convention where members will vote for the union’s leadership, goals, and direction for the next four years. Members formed committees and discussed resolutions to present at the convention including a possible boycott of a Reynolds American tobacco product.

“We are the strength of the union. [In Monterrey], we proposed what will be carried out in the convention in Ohio. In each group that was formed, we discussed what we wanted, and from these we will bring a summary to Ohio to analyze and see what things the people are asking for and what are the needs of the union members.”

 

 

 

- FLOC member Rene Rubio

FLOC members Felipe, Albino and Eli also gave reports on their experiences as members of the negotiating team that helped negotiate a new 4-year union contract between FLOC and the North Carolina Growers’ Association. They covered specifics of the new agreement and highlighted how members can use the contract and its grievance mechanism to be their own camp inspectors and advocates for change.

A special thanks to the Solidarity Center of the AFL-CIO for sponsoring the training!

 

 

Por los últimos 9 años, miembros del sindicato se han juntado en Monterrey antes del comienzo de la temporada para mejorar sus dotes de liderazgo del sindicato y hablar de la estrategia sindical en asuntos importantes. Este entrenamiento del liderazgo juega un papel fundamental en empoderar miembros con las herramientas y conocimiento necesario para abordar los problemas que se enfrentarán al llegar a los campos en Carolina del Norte.

Temas de formación incluyeron: identificar y resolver agravios, usar el proceso de compensación laboral, participar en el proceso democrático del sindicato, negociar mejores beneficios y paga y la estrategia de organizar en las cadenas de producción para mejorar condiciones en los campos.

“Yo veo esta reunión como el comienzo del trabajo de organizar en Carolina del Norte. Nos juntamos con los miembros más activos, los miembros más involucrados. Tocamos los puntos importantes, hacemos un plan, aprendemos unas cosas que usamos allí en Carolina del Norte para ir mejorando las condiciones del campo, animando más compañeros para unirse a la unión” – Vice Presidente Justin Flores

El entrenamiento de este año que tomó lugar el 18 y 19 de marzo empezó a formar la base para la convención cuatrienal de 2017 donde miembros votarán por el liderazgo, metas y dirección del sindicato para los próximos 4 años. Miembros formaron comités y hablaron de resoluciones para presentar en la convención, incluyendo la posibilidad de un boicot de un producto de tabaco de Reynolds American Inc.

Somos la fuerza del sindicato. [En Monterrey], nosotros planteamos que se lleva al cabo en la convención en Ohio. En cada grupo que se formaba, se mencionaba que es lo que queríamos, y de todas esas se llevará un resumen a Ohio para que lo analicen y vean cuales son las cosas que está pidiendo la gente y las necesidades de los sindicalizados.” – Rene Rubio, Miembro de FLOC

Felipe, Albino y Eli, miembros de FLOC, también presentaron sus experiencias como miembros del equipo de negociación que ayudaron a negociar un nuevo acuerdo sindical de 4 años entre FLOC y la Asociación de Rancheros de Carolina del Norte. Abarcaron los específicos del nuevo acuerdo y enfatizaron como miembros pueden usar el contrato y su proceso de quejas para ser sus propios inspectores de campamentos y promotores de cambio.

¡Un agradecimiento especial al Centro de Solidaridad del AFL-CIO por patrocinar el entrenamiento!

Undercover Video Shows Child Labor in the Fields

Ever wondered what it’s like to work in the fields? Watch as Kiwi Callahan goes undercover in Eastern NC to reveal the truth about child labor in the fields.

Part One of Where I Don’t Belong: In the Fields

 Part Two of Where I Don’t Belong: In the Fields

 

FLOC has continuously called on Reynolds American to sign an agreement with FLOC to guarantee the right to freedom of association to all farmworkers in their supply chain. In May 2016, RAI for the first-time admitted instances of child labor, hazardous working conditions and other human rights abuses on contract farms in their 2015 audit report; however, they continue to deny farmworkers the right to organize and collectively bargain without fear of retaliation, arguing that simple trainings can solve the inequities in their supply chain. Click here to read more about the Reynolds campaign!

FLOC celebrates the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera

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After serving 35 years in prison, Oscar Lopez Rivera has been transferred home to Puerto Rico where he will be released after finishing the last three months of his sentence. Join us in celebrating his long-awaited freedom!

As a leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), Lopez Rivera fought for Puerto Rican independence. In 1977, he was arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy because of his anticolonial organizing. For decades, human rights groups and activists like Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have called for the release of Lopez Rivera. More recently, FLOC President Velasquez sent a letter to President Obama in January 2017, calling on him to use his executive power to commute his sentence and release him.

“I am joining the voices of my Latino brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the US as well as so many concerned persons not only here but globally, asking that you release Oscar Lopez Rivera before your term as President ends. Mr. Rivera has certainly served his time; and there is no societal benefit for his continued incarceration. In fact, persons of good will around the world would welcome his release as a humanitarian act so indicative of who you are as a person and as a President.”

 

 

FLOC celebra la libertad de Oscar López Rivera

Después de servir 35 años de su sentencia de prisión, Oscar López Rivera ha sido traslado a su hogar, Puerto Rico, donde va a ser liberado después de terminar los últimos tres meses de su sentencia. Únanse con nosotrxs en celebración de una larga espera para ser liberado!

Como líder de las Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), fue detenido y convicto por conspiración sediciosa debido a su organización anticolonial. Por décadas, grupos y activistas de derechos humanos como Desmund Tutu y Jimmy Carter han exigido su liberación. Recientemente, Presidente Velásquez escribió al presidente Obama en enero de 2017, solicitándole que use su poder ejecutivo para conmutar la sentencia y liberar a Lopez Rivera.

“Me estoy uniendo a las llamadas de mis hermanxs latinxs en Puerto Rico y los Estados Unidos, así como tantas personas interesadas no solo aquí sino en todo el mundo, pidiéndole la liberación de Oscar Lopez Rivera antes de que se termine su mandato como presidente. Sin duda, señor Rivera ha cumplido su condena. De hecho, personas de buena voluntad de todo el mundo agradecerían su liberación como un acto humanitario tan indicativo de quien eres como persona y como presidente.”

World’s Tobacco Workers United in Global Fight for Justice

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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.

 

Click here to read the full declaration presented in Myanmar!

 

[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

 

 

 

BV speaking in Myanmar wide

 

Members Convene in Nayarit to Prepare for FLOC Convention

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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.”

 

 

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