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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.
[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
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.
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.”
FLOC and the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice are hosting the annual benefit concert on December 9th at the Jose Martinez Memorial Gallery in Toledo, OH. FLOC president, Baldemar Velasquez, will perform with the Aguila Negra Band. All proceeds from the evening will go to support youth and farmworker organizing programs like the FLOC Homies Union and FLOC Migos.
Please join us for an exciting evening and consider becoming a sponsor. All contributions made to FLOC’s education and training partner, CMWJ, are tax exempt. Checks can be made out to CMWJ and mailed to 1221 Broadway St. Toledo, OH 43609
$100 – Silver
$200 – Gold
$300 – Platinum
$500 – Underwriter for Justice
$1000 – Diamond Event Partner
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.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
4354 S U.S. 117 Alt Hwy, Dudley, NC 28333
5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Workshop in Spanish
Participants will learn to navigate college applications and understand the financial aid process. The workshop will include information about overcoming barriers to higher education, DACA status and preparing for success in college. Spanish-Language information and Refreshments will be provided.
For more information contact: Kayli Richter, College Adviser, 919-705-6060 (English)
¡Listos Para el Éxito!
Como prepararse para la Universidad y una Carrera
Miércoles, el 26 de octubre del 2016
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
4354 S U.S. 117 Alt Hwy, Dudley, NC 28333
De las 5:00 pm hasta las 7:00 pm
Taller en Español
Los participantes (nacidos aquí o no) aprenderán como navegar el sistema de aplicaciones para ir al Colegio y/o Universidad y como recibir ayuda financiera. Los talleres incluirán: como resolver los obstáculos y desafíos que enfrentan los estudiantes, el beneficio DACA, y como prepararse para el ingreso y éxito en la Universidad. ¡Información en español y Refrigerios!
Para más información: Donna Weaver, Coordinadora de Servicios en Español de NCSEAA,
919-799-3779 (texto o voz) o por email email@example.com
FLOC holds three regional membership meetings each year where our members come together for updates on union campaign activity, continued training on rights under their union contract, and to build organizing efforts throughout the state.
Our Triangle Regional Meeting will be held at 3pm on September 25, 2016. Transportation is one of the biggest barriers in workers being able to attend these meetings. If you are free on 9/25 and willing to help a pick up and drop off a member, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or 919-731-4433.
Exact location TBD soon.
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
After you Take the Pledge, share this graphic with your family and friends and ask them to join you!
— FLOC (@SupportFLOC) September 8, 2016
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.
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.”
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 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.”
The FLOC Homies Union is not just a job, it is a social justice movement!
If you are interested in applying to be in the Employment Readiness and Youth Empowerment Program, you should take some time to read about FLOC & FLOC Homies Union on this website before you begin filling out your application. Do your research, because it is required that you know who we are for you to have a successful interview.
In addition to your application you will need to send us a brief 1-2 minute video explaining what social justice means to you personally in regards to your culture and identity whatever that may be and include an example from your life. [ADD HOW TO SEND VIDEOS]
Social Justice imposes on each of us, including you, a personal responsibility to work with others to determine, decide and fight injustices collectively to make the changes you want to see within you, your family, community, police, school, and workplace. If you are under the age of 18, please have your parent/guardian give you permission to send us your brief video in the beginning of your video.
Below are a few terms that will be helpful to understand before you begin the application process. Please review these terms, and then click the “start application” button below. If you don’t know the meaning of any word(s) please use a dictionary.
“The Labor Movement”
The Labour movement or Labor movement respectively are general terms for the collective organization of working people developed to represent and campaign for better working conditions and treatment from their employers and, by the implementation of labor and employment laws within their governments.
“A Movement to Declare War on Poverty”
“The Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement”
The Chicano Movement of the 1960s, also called the Chicano Civil Rights Movement or El Movimiento, was a civil rights movement extending the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s with the stated goal of achieving Mexican American empowerment.
“The Civil Rights Movement”
Through nonviolent protest, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s broke the pattern of public facilities’ being segregated by “race” in the South and achieved the most important breakthrough in equal-rights legislation for African Americans since the Reconstruction period (1865–77).