Speaking at the opening night session of the Third National Labor Fightback Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21, Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC, AFL-CIO), denounced the anti-immigrant and anti-worker Farm Bill S615 that was passed by the North Carolina legislature in June and signed into law by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper on July 13.
“S615,” Velasquez explained, “is a shameful abuse of power that takes aim at our union in a blatant attempt to stop farm workers from achieving union collective-bargaining agreements that include wage increases, job security, benefits, and improved working conditions.”
S615 has two parts: (1) It makes it illegal for farmers who have signed union agreements to deduct dues from union members who want to pay dues, thereby seeking to weaken FLOC. “It would be close to impossible for our union staff to go and collect dues from all the worksites in the back woods of North Carolina,” Velasquez told the participants in the Labor Fightback conference.
(2) It makes it illegal for farmworkers to ask growers to sign an agreement with their union as part of settling wage or other legal violations. “With the continuation of Jim Crow-era laws that aim to stop a now almost entirely Latino workforce from organizing, this is an affront to freedom of association and smacks of racism,” Velasquez stated.
But the fight is not over, far from it, Velasquez continued. “We will challenge this unjust law in the courts.…We have faced daunting obstacles before, and we have overcome them. We have beat back the xenophobes and racists who are constantly pummeling migrant workers and immigrants alike. And we will push them back again!”
Velasquez recounted the long history of FLOC’s organizing drives—and victories—since the union formed in the late 1960s. And he informed the Labor Fightback conference participants that FLOC would be convening the union’s 7th Constitutional Convention on September 8–9 in Toledo, Ohio, on the occasion of FLOC’s 50th anniversary.
“Because of the many recent attacks on workers, immigrants and poor people, this convention will be one of the most important yet,” Velasquez stated. “The stakes are higher than ever, and our members are depending on this convention to strategize their self-defense by organizing around collective-bargaining, to educate through marches, hearings and demonstrations in our non-violent tradition.”
Velasquez also announced that the FLOC convention delegates will discuss and vote to launch a boycott of an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. product —the electronic cigarette “Vuse”—which is sold predominantly at 7-11, Circle K, Kangaroo, and WaWa convenience stores. “We will boycott those stores as long as they carry that product,” Velasquez said.
“We are asking folks to pledge to support this boycott by sending their pledge to FLOC so that we can announce their support at our upcoming convention,” Velasquez continued. “We are also asking supporters to write a letter to British American Tobacco (BAT)—with a copy to North Carolina Governor Cooper—taking issue with this unacceptable power play against one of the most exploited workforces in North Carolina.”
Support pledges to the boycott should be emailed to FLOC at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to British American Tobacco—the new parent corporation of R.J. Reynolds—should be emailed to www.bat.com/contactus. Snail-mail letters can be sent to British American Tobacco p.l.c., Globe House, 4 Temple Place, London, WC2R 2PG. Letters to Governor Roy Cooper should be emailed to: www.governor.nc.gov/contact-governor-cooper. Please send copies of your letters to FLOC.
Velasquez went on to urge Labor Fightback Conference participants to go back to their unions and organizations to help FLOC raise the resources to transport, house, and feed the farmworkers who will come to the FLOC convention as delegates. “We expect 500 delegates from Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mexico, as well as various special international guests,” Velasquez noted.
The participants at the Cleveland conference raised close to $2,000 at the gathering for FLOC’s convention fund drive. The conference also agreed to make FLOC’s fund drive and its boycott of this R.J. Reynolds product a top priority in the months ahead.
— Approved by Third National Labor Fightback Conference (Cleveland, Ohio — July 21–23, 2017)