Category Archives: Highlights

Striking Farmworkers Reach Settlement with Kentucky Tobacco Grower

KY settlement meme

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!

KY settlement meme

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.


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


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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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

“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!

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.


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

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.”


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.


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!

Take the Pledge: Support Farmworker Organizing Year Round


This week, we celebrated workers on Labor Day. Now, we need you to commit your support to organizing year round. With your gift of just $10 each month, we can:

  • Increase outreach and training for our members
  • Increase the number of workplace problems we are able to respond to
  • Build our community organizing efforts to address a broad range of issues facing the Latino community
  • Expand the campaign to guarantee collective bargaining rights to tobacco farmworkers across the South

Take the Pledge! Just $10/month to support farmworker organizing year round.

After you Take the Pledge, share this graphic with your family and friends and ask them to join you!



FLOC Stands With Community Demanding Immediate Release of Ana Gloria

Free Ana Gloria pic 1

ana gloria and sonSept. 7, 2016 – Yesterday, FLOC leaders and members joined a protest at the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin, Ohio, to speak out against yet another inhumane detention and possible deportation of a local mother who has been detained for nearly 100 days. Ana Gloria, pictured here with her son, has diabetes and has suffered serious health effects from the jail’s failure to provide insulin and proper medical care. She is one of many immigrants who have suffered from inhumane treatment in this jail.

Ana Gloria is a loving mother and community member who should not be detained or deported. The Seneca County Jail has a contract with ICE and primarily houses immigrant detainees. It is also well known for its abusive treatment of inmates.

We stand with our community and call for immediate release of Ana Gloria and all others who have been unjustly detained, and a full investigation into the conditions and practices at Seneca County Jail. 

Read more about Ana Gloria’s case in the full press release below.


Ilmer Jancarlos Trejo


Akron Latinos to protest Immigrant Detention Center in Tiffin, Ohio

The Seneca County Jail in Tiffin, Ohio, is the site of a modern-day Trail of Tears, as thousands of Hispanics are detained there before being deported, forced to the leave their families, children and all their possessions behind, much like the native Seneca, namesakes of the detention center.

A group of Akron Latinos and their friends will rally in Tiffin, Ohio, near the Seneca County commissioner’s office, 111 Madison St., Tiffin, Ohio, on Tuesday, September 6th from 10 – 11 a.m.

They will bring attention to the case of Ana Gloria Trejo, 55, a single mom who is facing imminent deportation. She was detained June 2nd in Akron, by ICE, and has spent nearly 100 days in the Seneca County Jail. A diabetic with other medical issues, the jail has not administered her insulin, causing her health to deteriorate as she loses weight and her vision is impacted. Complaints at the jail over the years have remained unaddressed, as overall accountability remains murky between jail administration and ICE.

In fiscal year 2015 alone, 696 immigrants have been detained in the Seneca Jail, with an average stay of 46 days. Over 90% are Hispanic, and many are local from Ohio The County bills the U.S. government a per diem of $58 per immigrant per day, generating millions of dollars in revenue for the County on the cruel tragedies and hardships of hard-working Latinos and their families.

Ana Gloria Trejo’s son, Ilmer, will be at the rally to speak with media. Also present will be members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and its president Baldemar Velasquez, and HOLA Ohio.


Abel’s Story: “We give everything in the fields, and in the end have very little”

abel in field 2

Abel 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.

 Lea la historia de Abel aquí en Español.

As Abel turns 30 this month, he’s thinking about how much of his life he’s spent working in the fields. Every year for the past eight years, he has traveled to North Carolina from his home in Tamazunchale, Mexico to work in the fields for anywhere from four to six months. The work has taken its toll on him physically, but he says the hardest part is feeling like he has lost a part of his life that he could have spent at home with his family. “This work is very hard, and you suffer a lot. Sometimes I think, what kind of life is this? We are alone in the camps, away from our families, missing our kids.”

At 18, when Abel graduated from “preparatoria”, or high school, he went to Monterrey to work at H-E-B, a chain store similar to WalMart. His goal was to save up enough money to get a passport, so he could come to the US to work. “There are no jobs in Tamazunchale,” says Abel. “I had to find another place to make money.” His father, a FLOC member who had been working seasonally in North Carolina since 2004, worked with FLOC to help Abel through the recruitment process, and in 2008 Abel made his first cross-border trip to North Carolina.

In August of that year he arrived at a farm in Henderson, NC, where he and eight coworkers were in charge of harvesting all of the grower’s tobacco by hand. Abel felt nervous because he had never worked in tobacco before, and he relied on his coworkers to show him how to carefully and quickly pick the correct leaves, one row at a time. But by the third day in the fields, Abel knew something was wrong. “When we left the field that day, my whole body felt terrible. I was dizzy and nauseous. I asked my coworkers what was happening to me, and they said it was from the nicotine in the tobacco. They told me it was normal, every new tobacco worker goes through it.”

The next morning he took anti-nausea medicine before he went to work, but his symptoms only got worse. By 7:00pm when they finally finished work and went back to the camp, Abel says he felt like the world was spinning around him. He tried to shower and drink milk, which some farmworkers say helps with nicotine poisoning, but nothing helped. “I was vomiting so hard that my whole body lost strength. I was scared, and I started to cry because I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I might die. I called my dad, who was working on a different farm, and he told me it would be ok, that this was all normal.”

abel in field 3

With time, Abel says his body got used to the nicotine and he didn’t feel the effects as much as the first week. After a traumatic first experience in the fields, he was afraid to return again the following season. But without a young daughter to support and no job opportunities in his home town, he says his only option was to travel to the US and try to make as much money as possible during the season. “I decided that what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger,” he says.

And it certainly has made him stronger. During his third season in North Carolina, Abel joined the union, and found it was a source of strength and support to get through the season. “When I joined I felt like I had someone supporting me, like I wasn’t so alone,” he remembers. “I saw the union fighting for everyone who works in the fields. And I saw Americans supporting us, too. Even though they don’t do this work, they were supporting our fight, and when we have problems they are there to support us.”

Abel began to attend union meetings and trainings, and now he teaches others about the benefits of having a union contract. “For me, it’s about job security,” he says. “I know that if my grower doesn’t request me again next year, I can submit a bid through the union. Without a union, if your grower doesn’t request you, you could have to wait or lose a season of work.” He says the contract also offers protection in case you are injured at work. “Without the union and an attorney, a grower could just send you back to Mexico if he doesn’t want to help you.”

Abel with FLOC flagAbel gets more involved with the union each year, and he’s always thinking about ways to negotiate more benefits for members. “If you compare field work to other jobs, many other jobs are easier and better paid. This work kills us every day in the fields. We suffer from illnesses, some have died. We give everything in the fields, and in the end we have very little. We deserve better wages, and someday I’d like to negotiate a pension, so that we have something for later in life.”

Another interesting thing about Abel: he can rap. “I like music with a message,” he says. He uses his skills to write raps about things he has been through in life, and also about the union. Listen to one of Abel’s latest raps about FLOC here (in Spanish).

Abel is slowly working toward his goal of one day not having to return to the US to work. He is building a house in Mexico, and each year when he finishes a season in North Carolina, he is able to build a little more of his house. “Eventually, I’d like to be able to stay in Mexico with my family, and have my own house. I want my daughter to be able to finish school, and someday I’d like to start my own business.”

But while he’s here each year, Abel is determined to see the union flourish and be a part of improving conditions for all farmworkers. “FLOC is part of my life. I’m so grateful. And I am with the union until the end.”

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!

Meet Gillary: She’s 18, and Already Changing the World

Gillary Lanzo

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

Haz clic aqui para leer la historia de Gillary en español.

Meet Gillary Lanzo. While most 18-year-olds graduate from high school a little unsure of what’s next, Gillary knows exactly where she’s headed, and she has a heart full of passion, drive, and excitement to get her there. Gillary is one of FLOC’s rising leaders, and she brings her passion and love for her community to the FLOC Homies Union, a youth organizing committee based in our Ohio office.

Gillary, childhoodGillary grew up near San Juan, Puerto Rico, surrounded by drugs, gangs, and frequent shootings so close to her house that her and her siblings weren’t allowed to play outside. “It was really bad and traumatizing, especially for kids. Once, my mom baked a cake and walked down the street to give it to a friend, and got shot in the leg on the way.”

But more than anything, Gillary remembers growing up surrounded by a loving family: her mom, two brothers, one sister, and plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins that raised her in a peaceful, loving home, despite the violence outside her front door.

When Gillary was 13, her mom surprised her and her siblings with plane tickets to the United States. This was their ticket out of a life of violence and gangs, and into the promise of a safer community and a good education. One week later, Gillary and her family packed up their things, and moved to Ashtabula, Ohio, where they moved in with her aunt.

Soon after moving, Gillary started the seventh grade. “It was so hard,” she remembers. “The school was huge, and I didn’t speak much English. I couldn’t understand my class schedule, so I used to show people the room number and then follow them to get to class.”

Just one year later, Gillary found herself packing her bags again to move to Florida, where an uncle had told them she would have access to the best schools. Disappointed in what they found, Gillary’s mom made the difficult decision to move back to Ohio two years later. But this time, she was determined to put down some roots and keep her family in one place. They bought a house in Toledo, OH, where Gillary started high school.

Gillary LanzoDespite all of the turbulence in her life, Gillary never lost focus of where she was headed. She has a passion for working with animals, and in her junior year in high school she found the Natural Science Technology Center, and signed up for the Small Animal Management Program. During her senior year, she landed an internship at Toledo Zoo in the education department, where she learned to train birds, and helped feed and care for the animals.

Gillary also has a passion for interpreting. After her family moved from Puerto Rico and she learned English through school, she often translated for family members at doctor appointments and in public when they were struggling to communicate. “I remember how hard it was for me to learn English. I couldn’t understand other kids in the lunch room, and I remember getting funny looks. It’s nice to be able to help others who are still learning,” she says.


Your donation to the “Voces:Somos FLOC” campaign will go directly to supporting our members like Gillary, and the important organizing work they are doing in the community. Click here to contribute.

When she found FLOC, Gillary saw an opportunity to combine her love for animals, interpreting, and helping her community. She started out as a volunteer, making phone calls and attending community meetings. Intrigued by the work, she decided to go through FLOC’s organizer training, join the FLOC Homies Union, and apply for the Youth Employment Program, where she was placed in an internship with a local dog groomer.

Gillary LanzoNow, Gillary spends time at FLOC every day when she finishes her work at the groomer. Through her work with the Homies Union, Gillary has met with the superintendent of Toledo Public Schools to discuss how to protect women in school and respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment, worked with other youth in the community to reduce violence on the streets, is a part of a committee working on a code of conduct with police to decrease racial profiling and discrimination, and works with the community to report broken lights, roads, and parks to the city so that they can be repaired.

This September, Gillary and the Homies are planning a Peace and Justice Walk to continue their work building bridges in the community to reduce violence on the streets and with the police. “Police are stopping people because of skin color,” she says. “It feels like every person getting pulled over is African American or Hispanic. We’re hoping that as police get to know FLOC, they’ll know that they are wasting their time pulling us over for no reason.”

IMG_20160604_132209004_croppedGillary says the annual Peace and Justice Walk, started in memory of Abriel Ruiz, who was a community activist working to broker peace between rival gangs, will be an important step in building a stronger, safer community. “We’re really going to show what it looks like for a community to come together and stand up for peace.”

This fall, Gillary is starting college, and plans to study biology. “Someday I’d love to be doing research in a lab. I’m going to do health related research, so I can find cures for diseases that affect animals.”

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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