Pablo 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.
When Pablo first came to the US to work in the fields, he landed in rural Virginia. It was 1990, and he remembers the first grower he worked for taking him and his coworkers to the store to buy them all envelopes, notebooks, and pens to write letters home to their families. “We used to finish work and go back to the camp and write letters to our families, sometimes three or four a week,” he says.
Pablo worked in the fields of Virginia for 18 years. Then in 2009, he was sent to work in North Carolina, an experience he will never forget. “The grower was violent,” he recalls, “he screamed at us, and everyone was afraid of him.” It was common knowledge that the grower kept a gun in his truck, and while he never openly threatened anyone with it, the message was clear: do your work and don’t complain.
In 2013, he landed at a farm in Louisburg, NC, where he was offered extra work driving the van of workers to and from work and between the fields each day. When he noticed he wasn’t being paid for the extra hours spent driving, he confronted the grower. But the grower refused to pay. Feeling like he had no other option, Pablo continued driving for the rest of the season, but was never paid for his time. He wasn’t offered employment at that farm the following year, a move which Pablo is sure was a result of him questioning his pay.
Earlier this year, through a routine union visit at Pablo’s camp, Pablo learned that because he was covered by FLOC’s union contract, he had the right to file a complaint about the wages stolen from him in 2013. He filed the grievance, and immediately signed up to be a member of FLOC.
Last month Pablo won his grievance, and he and another worker who also drove the van received thousands of dollars in back wages.
Each year, FLOC members gather for regional meetings where members like Pablo learn how to use the union contract to protect themselves at work, and strategize ways to continue building union membership and power.
Will you donate to help raise the funds needed to make sure workers can come to the meetings and participate in their union? A donation of $25 will sponsor a worker who wants to participate in the meeting.
Pablo says he joined the union because he wants to see workers get a fair share of the wealth in agriculture. “The growers invest a lot of money. But it’s us, the workers, who plant and harvest that money. They invest a lot of money, but we invest our time. We deserve good pay.”
For years, Pablo has watched growers exploit and silence workers on the various farms where he has worked, and now he is determined to do something to change it. He works tirelessly educating his coworkers about their rights under the union contract, and encouraging workers to speak up when there is a problem.
“When worker’s voices aren’t heard, when they say we don’t get to have an opinion, that is the same as saying that we are slaves,” he says. “The slaves didn’t have a voice or a vote. They worked and worked, and if they spoke out they were mistreated.”
Now, Pablo is a union leader at his camp. He just attended his first union meeting where workers received training on their rights under the contract, and strategized how to organize their coworkers and build the union. At the meeting, Pablo presented his case to over 50 workers as an example of why having a strong union and grievance procedure is so important. He’s not shy when it comes to encouraging others to become members. “I invite everyone to join the union and make complaints about problems,” he said at the meeting. “If we stay quiet then we are siding with the person who is doing wrong.”
Members like Pablo need your support to continue fighting for safe, humane working conditions, fair pay, and union rights. 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.