Category Archives: Front Page Slides

FLOC Sues NC Over Law Stripping Rights From 100,000 Workers

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On November 15, FLOC a coalition of civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging a state law that guts the ability of farmworkers to organize and make collective bargaining agreements with employers.

The lawsuit argues that the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017 impedes farmworkers’ First Amendment right to participate in unions, and asserts that the law is discriminatory, as more than 90 percent of the state’s agricultural workers are Latino. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the government cannot impose special burdens on expressive associations such as unions.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of FLOC and two FLOC members. It was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the North Carolina Justice Center, and the Law Offices of Robert J. Willis. The groups are asking the court to block implementation of the law as the challenge proceeds.

“Politicians that are also growers shouldn’t pass self-serving laws simply because they don’t want their workers to unionize. With the continuation of Jim Crow-era laws that aim to stop a now almost entirely Latino workforce from organizing, this is an affront to freedom of association and smacks of racism. Companies like Reynolds American should be embarrassed that growers in their supply chains are attacking the very farmworkers who make their companies’ wealth,” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez.

More than 100,000 farmworkers provide labor to North Carolina farms, helping to generate more than $12 billion for the state economy. The vast majority are Latinos and work seasonally, many under temporary H2A visas.

The law bars farmworker unions from entering into agreements with employers to have union dues transferred from paychecks — even if the union members want it, and even if the employer agrees to the arrangement. Because North Carolina is a so-called “right-to-work” state, dues deductions can only occur when individual workers choose to have dues deducted. Many of FLOC’s members are guest-workers who lack ready access to U.S. bank accounts, credit cards and other means of making regular union dues payments, and they therefore rely on dues transfer arrangements to pay their union dues. If those arrangements become invalid, the union will be required to divert most of its limited resources to collecting dues individually from each worker.

The law also prohibits agricultural producers from signing any agreement with a union relating to a lawsuit, such as a settlement in which an employer agrees to recognize a union, or a collective bargaining agreement that includes a promise not to sue. FLOC has used such voluntary agreements with employers to secure critical improvements in working conditions at farms, such as higher wages and an end to exploitative recruitment fees and blacklisting. In addition, FLOC has successfully challenged tobacco giants, such as Reynolds American, Inc. to acknowledge their responsibility for the conditions workers face in their supply chains. The new law introduces major obstacles to FLOC’s ability to renew its existing agreements and pursue more in the future.

The groups are asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth amendments. They are also asking the court to grant preliminary and permanent injunctions, restraining state officials from enforcing the law.

The law’s primary sponsor was State Sen. Brent Jackson, who owns Jackson Farming Company and was recently sued for wage theft by Latino farmworkers who were helped by FLOC. State Rep. Jimmy Dixon, an owner of Jimmy Dixon farm in Duplin County, was the only legislator to speak in favor of the anti-worker provisions in the bill on the House floor. He said the law was necessary because “there seems to be a growing wave of folks that are interested in farm labor.”

FLOC and allied Organizations Sign Code of Conduct with Toledo Mayor and Police Chief

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In a packed room at the union hall of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) on Broadway St., members of the Black and Brown Coalition of Toledo signed an historic community agreement with Mayor Paula Hicks Hudson and Chief of Police George Kral. The agreement includes a code of conduct that police officers and Toledo residents commit to complying with, including a groundbreaking independent process where citizens can air their grievances and complaints. In addition, community groups and the City of Toledo agreed on a process for both community groups and the Toledo Police to train their respective constituencies on proper conduct, search and seizure procedures, record keeping, use of force, among other critical topics in order to promote trust and enable law enforcement to keep communities safe. Click here to read the full code of conduct!

“After two years of conversations in our community and with the Police Department and Mayor’s office, we are pleased to begin the next phase in a process to improve the relationship of our Latino and Black community and the police department. We believe this agreement will help us feel safer and also help the police department do their job more effectively. We thank everyone who put a lot of time and effort into this project. Our understanding is that this code of conduct is the first independent agreement signed between community and police groups and hope that other communities across the nation will organize themselves and create similar agreements.” said President Velasquez.

Members of the Black and Brown Coalition of Toledo include the Laborers International Union Local 500, the Toledo chapter of the NAACP, the Toledo Community Coalition, Latino’s United, the NW OH AFL-CIO, the FLOC Homies Union, and FLOC LOBOS.

“We are very proud of the relationships that have been reestablished with FLOC and Baldemar Velasquez. We realize that we have much more in common than we have apart. When we stick together and are focused in one direction and with one voice, we can accomplish quite a bit.” said Ray Wood of the Toledo NAACP.

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Striking Farmworkers Reach Settlement with Kentucky Tobacco Grower

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On November 2, seven tobacco farmworkers signed a settlement agreement with Wayne Day, a tobacco grower in Paint Lick, Kentucky, ending their almost month-long strike. For the past three years, the workers came from Mexico through the H2A guestworker program to work for Mr. Day who systematically cheated them out of the minimum wage. With the backing ofFLOC, the workers initiated a strike on October 11, 2017, refusing to return to work until Mr. Day agreed to pay them back all stolen wages. The FLOC members negotiated a settlement this week totaling $20,000 of back wages and attorney’s fees!

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Thank you to everyone who showed support to the workers during their strike! Community allies from across Kentucky visited the workers on a regular basis to deliver groceries and clothing. And many supporters in Kentucky and across the country donated to a strike fund to help the workers financially during the strike.

Cristian Santillan, one of the striking workers, said, “We didn’t know we were launching the first tobacco strike in recent Kentucky history but we got the grower’s attention by doing so, and we are glad that with the help of FLOC, he was pressured to pay us much of the wages we lost over the three seasons of underpayment.”

Now that the workers have received their stolen wages, they are planning to return to their families in Nayarit and Hidalgo, Mexico. Two of the strikers, Adolpho Osorio and Francisco Gonzales, have had babies born to their wives since they left for this grueling tobacco work.

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Adolpho looks forward to meeting his newborn daughter

FLOC will continue to visit tobacco farmworkers in the area to encourage more workers to speak out against abuses. Click here to support FLOC’s organizing efforts in both Kentucky and across the South!

Union Democracy in Action at the FLOC 13th Constitutional Convention

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On September 9, 2017 FLOC members from Ohio and the Carolinas convened in Toledo, OH for FLOC’s 13th Constitutional Convention. Not only did this convention represent the culmination of a year of camp meetings, regional membership meetings in both Mexico and in the US, and the previous day’s committee meeting, but it also represented the successes of the past 50 years of FLOC’s work and constant struggle.

 

Members voted to reelect Baldemar Velasquez as president, Justin Flores as vice president, and Christiana Velasquez as Secretary Treasurer. They also voted for the FLOC Board and welcomed on two new board members: former FLOC Vice President Leticia Zavala and FLOC member and leader Eli Porras Carmona.

“[translated] I accepted the nomination with all of my heart and the will to accomplish many things for my coworkers. There is a lot to do, and I am sure that together we will accomplish la Victoria for all of our proposed resolutions.” – said newly elected board member Eli Porras.

Special guest speakers included Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks Hudson, Leonel Rivero, FLOC’s Mexico attorney, and Francisco Pablo Jimenez of MOCRI, a former political prisoner liberated after fighting contamination from mining companies in rural Mexico.

 

After the convention, allies joined FLOC members for a march and rally in downtown Toledo to defend immigrant rights and make sure that Toledo doesn’t become another Charlottesville. Click here to watch the march in action!

Members vote to boycott VUSE e-cigarette

Members presented, debated, and passed 13 resolutions including two emergency resolutions which will give the union leadership guidance on what the union’s work for the next four years will entail. Resolutions addressed important issues and topics like wages, housing, retirement benefits, immigration reform, and education.

 

One of the most important moments of the convention came when, in a unanimous vote, delegates passed a resolution to boycott Reynolds e-cigarette VUSE to escalate FLOC’s campaign with tobacco giant Reynolds American to guarantee farmworkers the right to organize!

Speaking to this resolution, Jose Benjamin, an H2A tobacco worker in North Carolina, said, “[translated] We have given a lot to the tobacco companies and in return they have given us very little. We are the ones who work, and we are the ones who suffer.”

Thank you to everyone who helped make this convention possible!

The convention would not have been possible without our amazing volunteers and drivers who helped register delegates, pick up and transport members, act as security to keep our members safe, and translate between Spanish and English. A special thanks to the National Farmworker Ministry and the YAYAs who drove here from Florida to participate and volunteer at the convention. And lastly, a HUGE thank you to our sponsors whose donations made this convention fiscally possible!

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IUF votes unanimously to join FLOC’s fight

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The IUF (International Union Federation) votes to join FLOC in an international fight against tobacco companies 

During the 27th IUF World Congress in Geneva, the IUF unanimously adopted a resolution co-authored by FLOC that calls on tobacco companies to guarantee farmworkers freedom of association. While many tobacco companies like Reynolds American, British American Tobacco, and Philip Morris International 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.

In October 2016, FLOC traveled to Malawi, Africa to gather with union leaders from 8 tobacco growing countries in Africa and Latin American and discuss the common problems that farmworkers face globally: 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, the coalition of unions drafted a resolution calling on unions to work together to fix issues in the transnational tobacco companies’ supply chains. Specifically, the resolution 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.

“Today, we received phenomenal support from the IUF for our global tobacco campaign. Specifically we gathered significant support in launching the next phase of the campaign for a Vuse electronic cigarette boycott.” Said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez

Listen to the Public News Service report on the passing of the IUF & FLOC resolution: International Effort Gains Momentum to Protect NC Tobacco Workers

 

FLOC Condemns White Supremacy

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FLOC Condemns the Violent Attack in Charlottesville, VA and Celebrates All Those Who Fight Against White Supremacy 

Our hearts go out to the people of Charlottesville, Virginia, especially to those who lost their lives or who were injured during Saturday’s racist attack. We also stand in solidarity with all those who in the face of these attacks have fearlessly taken action to confront white supremacy.

As someone who has been threatened with physical violence and has watched the Ku Klux Klan burn crosses in front of our strike headquarters, we are no stranger to this type of racial violence. We have seen this violence from farmers who seek to stop the progress that we have made and return the institutions of slavery and share cropping to the South and Midwest. We have seen this violence from local police who target our people and collaborate with ICE to tear apart our families. We have seen this violence from the NC state legislature, most recently with Farm Bill, SB 615, a targeted attack against our union and farmworkers who are fighting to improve their working conditions. And we have seen this violence from our president whose words and policies have not only directly hurt us but have also emboldened neo-Nazi and other white supremacist organizations to commit acts of terror.

Racism hurts us all and seeks to divide us as a people. Those who dismantle the structures and institutions of racism should be celebrated not criminalized. On Monday night, Takiyah Thompson removed the Confederate monument in Durham, NC that has for too long sent the wrong message about who we are as a nation. We applaud her actions and encourage everyone to commit to organizing and building unions and strong peoples organizations to challenge the systemic inequities in our daily lives.

In the words of Heather Heyer who died while fighting for what she believed in, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” FLOC is paying attention, and we remain committed to continuing the fight for racial and economic justice for all people.

 

In solidarity,

Baldemar Velasquez

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!

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. 

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