Category Archives: Front Page Slides

FLOC Meets with BAT in London

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On April 25, 2018, a FLOC and IUF (International Union of Food and Allied Workers) delegation traveled to London to attend British American Tobacco’s 2018 Annual General Meeting. This trip marked the first time that FLOC met with BAT as complete owners of Reynolds supply chain and the first meeting since the launch of FLOC’s boycott of Reynolds’s e-cigarette brand VUSE. Despite having brought to BAT’s attention numerous investigative reports and examples of human rights abuses on BAT and Reynolds’s contact farms, Chairman Richard Burros insisted that BAT’s policies were satisfactory and “doing the job.”

31306965_1707189739362753_7088315554945430132_nDuring the shareholders meeting, President Velasquez challenged BAT to stop promoting charity programs as an alternative to freedom of association and collective bargaining. “How long are you going to follow a model that is proven to be a failed model?” citing the US’s War on Poverty charity programs. “They fail because they don’t address the systemic inequities in the supply chain. Farmworkers do the most arduous jobs in this industry. We’re not asking for handouts, we’re asking for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” He also asked why BAT continues to either support or remain neutral when their growers sponsor legislation that inhibits freedom of association like NC SB615 and the NC Agricultural Right to Work law.

In a private meeting afterwards with BAT executives, President Velasquez pushed BAT to sign a memorandum of understanding to guarantee freedom of association to farmworkers in their supply chain. He also encouraged BAT to fix their pricing structure so that the price of tobacco would cover the true costs of doing business and allow farmers to provide better working conditions and fair wages, instead of marginalizing the farmworkers at the bottom of the supply chain with bad legislation.

“I encourage BAT to see FLOC as a real partner in transforming the tobacco industry and helping to fix the inequities in their supply chain. But until we have a written agreement from BAT and Reynolds, we’ll continue to organize and boycott Reynolds’s product VUSE.”

 

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FLOC Launches VUSE Boycott with Actions Across the US

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From April 9-20, we officially launched a boycott of Reynolds American Inc. (now owned by British American Tobacco)’s VUSE e-cigarette brand with over 40 demonstrations outside of Kangaroo, Circle K, 7 Eleven, and Wawa convenience stores in New York, San Francisco, Orlando, Raleigh, Durham, Toledo, and other major US cities. The boycott was dedicated to FLOC organizer, Santiago Rafael Cruz, who was assassinated on April 9, 2007 in our office in Mexico to try to stop the union from aiding farm laborers and ending corruption in the H2A guest worker program. The AFL-CIO, International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF), and the National Farmworker Ministry have already formally endorsed the boycott.

Contact us at boycottvuse@floc.com if you’re interested in getting involved in the VUSE boycott!

Horacio Mendoza Lopez, a tobacco farmworker and FLOC member states, “In the tobacco fields, you find yourself with a lot of suffering, obstacles and barriers such as all of the illnesses, the heat, and the work injuries. Even though a lot of people think that what we’re doing is easy, we know that what we’re doing comes with a lot of sacrifice.”

 

Despite widespread national and international support for tobacco farmworkers’ demands, Reynolds still hasn’t agreed to sign an agreement with FLOC to guarantee farmworkers the right to unionize and negotiate better working conditions.

“As farmworkers, we work hard under the sun and we give our best effort. I have seen how tobacco companies fill their pockets with money and how they themselves push for farmworkers to have even lower salaries. We are fighting for better wages and for decent and dignified housing, and that’s why I’m calling for support of this boycott.” says Jose Camper Lopez, a farmworker and FLOC member.

Similar demonstrations will be replicated and spread to other cities in the US. Contact us at boycottvuse@floc.com if you’re interested in getting involved in the VUSE boycott!

Photos from #BoycottVUSE demonstrations and pickets. For more photos or videos of actions, follow us on twitter @SupportFLOC and Facebook!

 

FLOC Pushes Mexican Government to Defend Mexican Farmworkers in the US

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In a meeting with the Roberto Campa Cifrián on Tuesday, the Secretary of Labor of Mexico, FLOC President Velasquez pushed the Mexican Department of Labor to work with FLOC in achieving a common interest of protecting Mexican workers. Historically, Mexican workers who come to the US to work in the fields through the H2A guest worker program have been exploited in the workplace and excluded from most laws that protect the rest of the US workforce. Velasquez explained the harmful impacts of this lack of parity by detailing abuses that Mexican farmworkers face in the US including widespread wage theft, sexual harassment, and dangerous working conditions among others.

In the context of Trump’s anti-worker administration and harmful immigration proposals like the Goodlatte Bill, Velasquez stressed the need for Mexico to defend their own citizens. Velasquez suggested that the Mexico government use the NAFTA renegotiations to push for the expansion of the Agricultural Worker Protections Act (AWPA) to include H2A guest workers. AWPA is the principal federal law that provides federal protections around the wages, housing, transportation and working conditions of US agricultural workers but currently excludes H2A guest workers from its protections and remedies. If AWPA covered the H2A program, it would be an additional tool that labor organizations could use to stop the abuses in the H2A program, which has expanded rapidly to more than 200,000 agricultural workers in 2017, the majority of whom are Mexican citizens.

During the meeting, Roberto Campa Cifrián committed to promoting actions and policies to stop the exploitation of agricultural workers and stated that he was confident that they could advance protections for workers. Campa requested another meeting this summer to give a report back on the progress that has been made.

“We are grateful for Campa taking the time to meet with us. We look forward to our next meeting this summer to hear what progress has been made and to continue building a collaborative relationship with the Mexican government to achieve our common goal of protecting Mexican workers.” Said President Velasquez.

Congratulations Sesario Duran!

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Congratulations to Sesario, a FLOC board member, for his introduction into the distinguished alumni hall of fame at Swanton High School in Ohio.

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.”

Today, Sesario continues to organize workers and supporters and currently serves on FLOC’s Board. We thank him for the 50 years that he has organized with FLOC! Click here to read more about Sesario’s story.

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

 

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