FLOC members and allies marched through Downtown Winston Salem, NC as they demanded that Reynolds American sign an agreement with FLOC guaranteeing labor rights for farmworkers in their supply chain. For the past 8 years, FLOC members have demanded that Reynolds address the abuses in their supply chain, by signing an agreement with FLOC that guarantees farmworkers have the right to freedom of association and protections from retaliation for speaking up against injustices on the job, so they can negotiate better working and living conditions.
During the meeting, over 30 allies were able to raise questions to the Reynolds board, focusing on the validity of the audit carried out on Reynolds contract farms by Underwriter’s Laboratories, which painted a very rosy picture of conditions on tobacco farms. Reynolds admitted that there are issues in NC tobacco fields that need to be addressed, but continued to refuse to sign an agreement with FLOC to address them. RAI Board Chairman Wajnert made a number of incorrect assertions, including the claim that signing an agreement with FLOC would be illegal. Longtime FLOC member Victor Toledo was able to address the Reynolds board, stating: “I’d like to call on the leaders of this company to consider what President Velasquez has brought forward to you,” said Victor, “and sign an agreement with FLOC so we can work together to improve the conditions of the workers whose labor you depend on.” As Reynolds executives did their best to put spin on their indefensible position, it became obvious to all in attendance that the company was simply trying to avoid the request to negotiate an agreement with the farmworkers in its supply chain, instead pointing to charity programs it supports and other cosmetic endeavors.
After the meeting, the delegation joined 300 supporters picketing outside RAI headquarters. FLOC members and allies from Ohio. North Carolina, and Florida, chanted, demanding that Reynolds end abuses in its supply chain by signing an agreement with FLOC. Following the picket, FLOC members and allies took to the streets of Winston Salem, and hosted a rally where speakers pledged their support. President Velasquez asked that supporters prepare for a major escalation coming in the following months. “This is our 8th year coming to the shareholders meeting and marching, still Reynolds refuses to sign an agreement with FLOC,” said President Velasquez, “They might have all the money, but we have the people on our side and we’ll keep escalating this campaign, until this company recognizes the people that make their wealth possible and signs a contract with FLOC.”
“The tobacco industry denies that there are injustices in the fields, but I have lived it and I can tell you that there are injustices, there is fear, and there is oppression.” Said Victor, “We don’t need for these companies to give money to organizations that advocate for farmworkers, we need the right to negotiate better living conditions and higher salaries for ourselves.”
Many thanks to all that came and supported us on May 7. Stay tuned, as we plan next steps in this campaign. Hasta La Victoria!
Special thanks to HOLA, YAYA, NFWM, NC AFL-CIO, NC NAACP, and NC Raise Up.