Velásquez is one of only 15 representatives from across the world
meeting in Geneva, Switzerland to create a global standard for
agricultural workers through the auspices of the prestigious
International Labor Organization (ILO).
The ILO is a tripartite United Nations agency that brings together
governments, employers, and workers of member states in common
action to promote decent working conditions throughout the
“This is the process that the UN uses through the ILO to set global
standards,” explained Velásquez to La Prensa in a
telephone interview before departing for Switzerland last
“The governments of the world have signed and are committed to the
ILO’s Convention 184, which deals with safety and health
in agriculture. Adopted in 2001, it states there should be
global standards that governments adopt and conform to national
laws through the convention treaty,” said Velásquez.
“The U.S. Congress has adopted Convention 184, and our lawmakers
have to look at OCHA, the U.S. Department of Labor and the
Agricultural Worker Protection Act to see how they can modify
existing laws to conform to the global treaty.
“In order to guide them in doing so, the ILO has developed a code
for interpreting the treaty/convention. But as we know,
governments can be very creative in how they interpret it,” said
Velásquez with a chuckle.
“Our task is to develop a code to guide the government more
specifically on how the treaty should be interpreted. This
keeps them from watering it down.
“Our 200-page document was created page-by-page and
section-by-section last year. Now we are tackling those articles
of disagreement. We start negotiating on Monday, October 25,
2010, and conclude the agreements by Thursday, October 28. Then
we bring it back in the final draft and vote on it Friday,” said
He explained that this year there is a smaller work group of
delegates involved in the process. Last year, there were ten
representatives each of global governments, employers, and
workers representatives. For this year’s session, there are only
five from each group—Velásquez is representing the farmworkers
of North America.
Velásquez said the Washington, D.C.-based Croplife International,
the global federation that represents the pesticide industry,
will be at the negotiating table.
In addition to Velásquez, worker’s representatives will include the
Australian worker’s union and the massive English labor
federation Unite, the largest trade union in Britain and
Ireland with 1.5 million members. (The UK union is not connected
to the U.S. union of the same name.)
“We will negotiate the final items for the code. And then we will
use it to show the disparity in the lax enforcement of [U.S.-]
American laws as applied against international standards.
“Even some African countries that are considered undeveloped
nations are considering strict standards or have already adopted
them,” said Velásquez.
He said he plans to send copies of the proceedings every night to
health and safety executives at the AFL-CIO to keep them in the
loop. Velásquez will return to Ohio on Saturday, October 30.
“That’s provided there aren’t any problems with volcanoes,” said
“Last time I flew to Europe, I had to spend five days in Amsterdam
because all the flights were delayed because of ash from the
But Velásquez won’t have much time to rest when he returns home. He
will be in México November 2-10, first for a Mexico City
Tribunal November 3-6 where he will present the case of
Santiago Rafael Cruz, the FLOC organizer slain in the
union’s Monterrey office in April 2007. That murder still
Velásquez will then attend a two-day meeting in Puerto Vallarta,
Jalisco November 8-9 for Civil Society Days. “There, the
question of migrant workers throughout the world will focus upon
North America,” said Velásquez.
Given the concerns Velásquez raised of lax enforcement of laws in
the United States, La Prensa asked about the role being
played by Latina Hilda Solis, President Barack Obama’s
Secretary of Labor.
“She has not been a disappointment to labor,’ said Velásquez. “In
fact, she has been very good. We have not had an opportunity
yet to present the farmworkers case to her, and that’s probably
our fault because we have been so busy with the R.J. Reynolds
Campaign. She has been with the CAW in their Florida
efforts, although that’s more of a PR effort.
“We have not been successful enough in connecting the government to
successful strategies. But I gave up on government enforcement
years ago. That’s why I organized a union. I believe in going
directly to industry,” said Velásquez.
Moments before we spoke, Velásquez had been on the phone with
Bob King, the new activist president of the United Auto
Workers and FLOC’s partner in organizing the JPMorgan Chase
Bank Boycott to pressure R.J. Reynolds and eliminate
Velásquez said he was elated to hear that King and the UAW had just
hired a full-time coordinator for the boycott.
Velásquez will also be updating FLOC supporters in periodic teas
hosted by his wife Sara at Sweet Shalom Tea Room, located
at 8216 Erie Street, Sylvania, with the next gathering in
Velásquez added, “Don’t forget to remind your readers that on
December 3 we will have a national day of leafleting at all