MARCH ON REYNOLDS 2014

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FLOC Supporters demand Reynolds Address the Fear of Retaliation faced by Tobacco Farmworkers 

The need to protect farmworkers who organize for better work conditions was the resounding chorus of FLOC supporters at the May 8 Reynolds American 2014 Shareholders Meeting.

Nearly 300 picketers converged on the Reynolds tobacco building during the annual meeting.  Their chants of “Justice Now!” made known that, despite Reynolds’ claim that it is addressing human rights abuses in its supply chain, the company’s efforts have fallen far short of results for farmworkers.

Inside the meeting over 40 North Carolina community and religious leaders, as well as human and labor rights advocates from Florida to Ohio, to Massachusetts pressed hard questions to Reynolds Chairman Thomas Wajnert about Reynolds’ idling.

Oliver Gottfried of Oxfam, speaking of the Farm Labor Practices Group formed by Reynolds and other tobacco giants to purportedly address human rights abuses in American tobacco fields, said, “The [Oxfam] recommendation was to create a dispute resolution mechanism allowing for redress for violations of the standards set.  After two years of dialogue, there has been no movement toward adopting such a system.”

After taking to Winston Salem’s streets in a colorful march, representatives from the NC NAACP, Ohio-based Hispanics Organized in Lake and Ashtabula Counties (HOLA), and the fast food workers’ union Raise Up pledged their support for tobacco farmworkers during a closing rally.  Julia, a Bojangles employee who has also worked in tobacco said, “Whether in the fields or fast food, our struggle is the same and we’ll band together.  $15 an hour and a union, that’s what we want!”

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Since North Carolina farmworkers can legally be fired for asking for a raise or even discussing wages with coworkers, its high time that Reynolds act on its stated support for basic human rights by guaranteeing farmworkers a grievance mechanism to safely negotiate their concerns.

Solidarity among workers and the wider community is key to holding Reynolds accountable for labor rights in its supply chain.  And 300 drumming, flag waving, justice demanding FLOC allies showed once again that solidarity is in no short supply for farmworkers!

As President Baldemar Velasquez told the Reynolds Executive board,”farmworkers can help solve the problems in the bottom of the supply chain, we just need to give them the safe conditions to unite.”

Thank you to all for coming out and especially to HOLA, NC NAACP, Farm Worker Ministry, YAYA, Raise Up!, Working America, the Teamsters, and Communications Workers of America for standing strong behind the right of farmworkers to organize without fear!

HASTA LA VICTORIA!