Category Archives: Front Page Slides

“We are the strength of the union”

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[español abajo]

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!

Add your name to #RaisetheWage in NC!

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Farmworkers work over 12 hour days in the fields, exposing themselves to pesticides, dangerous temperatures, and other health hazards – and yet many of them are still living in poverty, barely able to put food on the table. For too long, tobacco companies like Reynolds American Inc. have marginalized farmers to keep tobacco prices low, resulting in poverty wages and exploitation for those at the bottom of their supply chain. It is time for companies like Reynolds to use their wealth and industry power to ensure economic security and justice for everyone in their supply chain by paying fair prices for their tobacco and signing an agreement with FLOC to guarantee farmworkers freedom of association.

Add your name to support raising the minimum wage in North Carolina to $15 in 5 years! Then, click here to read more about the Reynolds Campaign. 

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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(español abajo)

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.”

FLOC Members Reach Settlement with Senator Jackson

(English below)

Miembros de FLOC llegan a un acuerdo con el senador Jackson

Después de varias acciones, 10.000 firmas en una petición y meses de negociaciones, los miembros de FLOC que demandaron al Senador Brent Jackson y su hijo Rodney Jackson llegaran a un acuerdo! La demanda colectiva empezó en octubre del 2015, cuando Rodney Jackson corrió a José Alberto, un trabajador migrante de México, porque no pudo pagar $2.400 por una bomba de gasolina que se rompió durante un accidente laboral. Después de su despido injusto, seis compañeros de José Alberto decidieron unirse a él y presentar una demanda en contra del Senador Jackson por presunta violación de paga.

En el acuerdo procurado por el abogado Robert Willis, Jackson Farming Company se deslindó de toda responsabilidad, pero aceptó pagar $96.950.00 para resolver las quejas presentadas por los demandantes. En total, los demandantes recibirán $50.000 para que sean divididos entre los siete demandantes por presunto reclamo de robo de salario y represalias por denunciar el presunto robo. Además, como parte del acuerdo, cada empleado de Jackson Farming Company que trabajó en el rancho en la temporada del 2015 califica para recibir $50. Toda la gente que trabajó en la temporada del 2015 debe de recibir formas y una carta por correo que explica el acuerdo. Para recibir esta plata, reclamantes necesitan mandar sus formas con una copia de su identificación dentro de 120 días después de que se mandara la notificación. Para preguntas acerca del acuerdo, llamen al abogado Roberto Willis o a CMWJ (por sus siglas en inglés Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice) 919-731-4433.

 

FLOC Members Reach Settlement with Senator Jackson

After various actions, 10,000 petition signatures, and months of negotiations, the FLOC members who filed legal claims in 2015 against Senator Brent Jackson and his son Rodney Jackson reached a settlement! The class action lawsuit began in October 2015, when Rodney Jackson fired Jose Alberto, a migrant farmworker from Mexico, because he couldn’t pay $2,400 for a gas pump piece that broke during a workplace accident. After the unjust firing, six of Jose’s coworkers took a stand with Jose and filed legal claims against Senator Jackson for alleged wage violations.

In the settlement procured by Attorney Robert Willis, Jackson Farming Company continued to deny liability but agreed to pay $96,950.00 to resolve the issues brought forth by the plaintiffs. In total, the plaintiffs will receive $50,000 to divide between the seven of them for alleged claims of wage theft and retaliation for speaking out. Additionally, as part of the settlement each Jackson Farming Company employee who worked for the farm in the 2015 seasonis eligible to receive $50. Everyone who worked the 2015 season should receive forms and a letter in the mail describing the settlement. To receive this money, claimants need to submit their forms with a copy of an ID within 120 days of mailing of the notice. For questions about the settlement, call Attorney Robert Willis or the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice at 919-731-4433.

 

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.”

 

 

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.

Sweet Potato Farmworkers Win Union Contract

Sweet Potato

 

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.

Click here to read more about the FLOC-NCGA Union Contract.

From the First Strike: Sesario’s Story of 50 Years with FLOC

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Sesario 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.

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.”

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Sesario with wife, Lucy, and children, Sonja and Tony. (1978)

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.

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Sesario Duran with Baldemar Velasquez, in jail holding cell after civil disobedience during 1978 strike.

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.”

sesario-duran-1In 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.”

sesario-duran-2Next 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!

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