FLOC founder and president, made the announcement during an
annual concert known as “Songs for Justice” Friday night
at the José Martínez Memorial Galeria, 1224 Broadway.
Velásquez performed alongside the Aguila Negra Band,
which doubled as a fundraiser for FLOC’s programs and the
Center for Migrant Worker Justice. Over 200 supporters
“It all started several years ago when we organized the boycott
of Mount Olive Pickle Company here in Toledo and our shock
troops were high school students,” explained Velásquez. “The
Catholic schoolkids ignited the public school kids and we used
to have marches along Broadway of 300 to 400 kids.”
The North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) is a
non-profit growers’ cooperative that helps farmers get H-2A
visas for temporary foreign agricultural workers, mostly from
Mexico. NCGA is the largest user of the visa program in the U.S.
The labor agreement is the fourth, four-year contract since FLOC
first won collective bargaining recognition for migrant
farmworkers there in 2004.
NCGA growers raise 25 to 30 different crops in addition to
tobacco, which makes up about 75 to 80 percent of its efforts.
But migrant farmworkers also pick cucumbers, strawberries,
tomatoes, sweet potatoes, raspberries, blueberries, and even
Past union agreements have
established an employment bid system allowing workers who
successfully finished their last contract to submit a bid to
return the following year. That allows workers from Mexico a
guaranteed return to work the following season. The new contract
expands that system based on seniority.
Workers can bid on jobs
through the union for the following season without waiting on a
recruiter to call them. FLOC and NCGA then review and approve
the bid in order to prevent recruiter abuses of the past.
“We can monitor that
recruitment and make sure it’s done. Otherwise, you’re left at
the mercy of the recruiter in Mexico to call you,” explained
Velásquez. “No other H-2A program in the United States has that
right. We’re the only ones.”
The new agreement also gives migrant farmworkers grievance
rights in Mexico against recruiters before they come to the U.S.
Velásquez introduced a contingent of Migos at the
concert, which is the North Carolina equivalent of the Homies
Union that FLOC started in Toledo’s Old South End to mentor
young people and teach them how to become community organizers.
“They’ve been out beating the bushes in the rural labor camps,
helping our organizers and our very talented staff down there,”
said the FLOC president, who called it a “breakthrough
But the bigger breakthrough may be the start of talks with major
global tobacco companies where FLOC is seeking the worldwide
recognition of the right to freedom of association. The issue is
how to implement that right, which would lead to tobacco
farmworkers to organize for the purpose of collective
bargaining. The template is the definition put forth by the
United Nations International Labor Organization.
“How do they implement that, because over the past four years,
we’ve pressed these tobacco companies, particularly Reynolds
America, to put freedom of association in their protocols,”
explained Velásquez in a phone interview. “They have to find a
way to get their suppliers to recognize freedom of association,
which is tough. These are international standards, which they’ve
put into the corporate social responsibility protocols.”
The FLOC president stated the protocols are now in place because
the tobacco companies were “embarrassed around the globe,”
particularly in Europe and the United Kingdom.
“We’ve got it in place, but where’s the practical mechanism to
make it real, particularly in the Deep South, which is all
right-to-work and very anti-union,” Velásquez wondered. “So
they’re trying to find a way to make it real on the ground
there. They just don’t know how in the atmosphere that exists in
Those talks currently include Philip Morris Intl., Universal
Leaf, and Reynolds America, among others.
“(The idea is) to find a way to have collective bargaining
rights for workers acknowledged on farms that are contracted to
them that are not part of the North Carolina Growers
Association,” explained Velásquez.
The tobacco companies hold more sway over their suppliers than
FLOC could on its own. Most of those growers come from other
states, including southern Ohio, where there are dozens of small
tobacco growers who each hire two or three migrant farm workers.
NCGA has most of the market cornered, as 75 to 80 percent of the
tobacco grown in the U.S. comes from North Carolina. But
Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky have significant numbers as
That effort comes on top of a sign-up campaign among migrant
farm workers in Kentucky, which has now reached several hundred
FLOC members. Velásquez admitted he had been arrested more than
20 times for his efforts to organize the labor camps in various
parts of the country.
“We’re working on a number of fronts to bring justice to
marginalized people,” said Velásquez. “We have a moral mandate
to lift up the marginalized people in our communities.”