Farmworker union exposes abuses and intimidation
On July 26th U.S Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and British Members of Parliament Ian Lavery and James Sheridan will take part in a fact-finding delegation to North Carolina tobacco fields to examine human rights conditions in the supply chain of British and American tobacco manufacturers. This bi-national delegation will be joined by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre and FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), a union representing farmworkers in the American South and Midwest and organizer of the delegation, will highlight the efforts of farmworkers to engage the companies in guaranteeing their right to negotiate collectively, without fear of retaliation.
In just 6 weeks, farmworkers have grown their organization by nearly a 1,000 members, all demanding “Respect, Recognition, and a Raise!” for the 150,000 migrant farmworkers in the state. Their efforts to organize have been met with intimidation and retaliation at the hands of growers, grower representatives, and labor contractors. In the last ten days alone, a FLOC organizer was punched in the face and, in a separate incident, a campaign organizer was nearly arrested for trespassing, despite having been welcomed by farmworkers to speak in the labor camp.
Bi-national fact-finding tour to stop in Dudley, Raleigh
On July 26, the delegation of statesmen will visit farms in the supply chain of various manufacturers – with particular attention to the supply chains of Reynolds and British American Tobacco – at the height of the tobacco-growing season to speak with farmworkers about their living and work conditions. Reynolds, the largest tobacco manufacturer in North Carolina, is a major supplier of British American Tobacco, which also owns a major share of the American company.
Tobacco farmworkers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below poverty wages.
While in the fields, the delegation will have the opportunity to speak with farmworkers about their efforts to have tobacco wholesalers take responsibility for the prevalent abuses found in the supply chain of the companies’ product through a written agreement of no retaliation and a path to freedom of association for farmworkers.
According to FLOC President and founder Baldemar Velasquez, tensions have mounted as hundreds of farm workers have joined the campaign for basic labor rights in the American tobacco industry. Since the June launch of an organizing drive, the largest farmworker initiative since Cesar Chavez, farmworkers have faced increasing intimidation and even violence. Says Velasquez of the tobacco companies:
“They are quick to profit off of human trafficking for their labor supply, and quicker still to pretend that the restraint of farmworkers to make complaints is acceptance, when plainly, it’s fear. Fear of getting fired, black listed, deported…You just can’t have these corporate responsibility policies that look great printed on company letterhead, and then, keep quiet when thousands of farmworkers are facing intolerance, intimidation and violence for making complaints about very basic human rights. The silence of these companies is deafening, and our hope, the farmworkers’ hope, is that these government representatives will hold the companies’ accountable for it.”
Following the field visit, a community forum will be held to further the discussion on the experience of farmworkers, while also broadening the conversation to understand the impact that tobacco company policies have had on public policy in the local community, including on immigration reform and child labor.
On July 27, the delegation will travel to Raleigh to meet with farmworker supporters and religious leaders before planned meetings in Washington, D.C and London to publicize their findings.
What: Bi-national fact-finding mission about the state of fear among workers in N.C. tobacco fields.
Who: Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH); Hon. James Sheridan, MP; Hon. Ian Lavery, MP; Ray Rogers, District Director for Congressman GK Butterfield; Tefere Gabre, Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO; Baldemar Velasquez, FLOC; FLOC organizers and farm workers
When: Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27
Saturday, July 26th
11 AM Meet at FLOC (4354 US Hwy 117 Alt S, Dudley, NC 28333) for lunch and briefing on Reynolds campaign.
1- 5 PM Visit labor camps
6:30- 8 PM Community hearing at FLOC to discuss human rights violations in NC tobacco & local grassroots efforts to end child labor and pass immigration reform.
Sunday, July 27
12 PM- 2:30 PM Labor camp visits
4 PM Meet at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (1801 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, NC 27605)
4 PM- 6 PM Meeting with farmworkers, farmworker support network and allied religious leaders, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church