TO: Diocesan Social Action Directors and Colleagues
FROM: Thom Shellabarger
RE: News from the National Farm Worker Ministry
DATE: October 6, 2004
On September 16, 2004 the National Farm Worker Ministry announced great news from North Carolina! The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) announced the signing of an agreement between FLOC, the NC Grower's Association, and Mt. Olive. (Ive attached the press release that includes details of benefits won for workers.)
This victory comes after 5 years of boycott and several intense months of organizing, discussions with workers and negotiations. These agreements end the boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles!
We celebrate this great victory with FLOC and with the farm workers. We salute Mt. Olive and the North Carolina Growers Association for recognizing that it is in their interest to establish just relationships with their workers.
Thank you to everyone who supported this effort over the years. Without you, it would not have been possible. In many ways this is just the beginning...now that a contract will be signed, the real work of implementing the changes begins... but VICTORY FOR FARM WORKERS IN NORTH CAROLINA.
Precedent-Setting Agreement Reached; Mt. Olive Pickle Boycott Over
After five years of a public action boycott by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), it has reached a precedent setting agreement with the North Carolina Grower's Association (NCGA) and the Mount Olive Pickle Company.
This Thursday, September 16, 2004, over 8,000 "guest" farm workers in North Carolina will become the first such workers in the history of the United States to win union representation and a contract. It will be the largest union contract in North Carolina's history.
A press conference and ceremonial signing will be held at 10:00am at the Community United Church of Christ, 814 Dixie Trail, Raleigh, North Carolina.
The international component of the contract to be signed on Thursday will allow the union to oversee the employment of over 8,000 workers from most Mexican States who will come to work in North Carolina with H2A visas through the U.S. Department of Labor. The standards set by this agreement are significant because of the agricultural industry's almost exclusive use of undocumented workers. The agreement will cover over 1000 North Carolina farms.
A side-bar agreement will extend the influence of this agreement as far as Ohio as a pact with the Mount Olive Pickle Company increases wages to workers and prices to growers by over 10% over the next three years in settling the more than five year old boycott. Most growers who contract with Mount Olive are also members of the NCGA.
The NCGA has been accused of blacklisting workers for supporting the union and for complaining about workers' rights and protections. The agreement between NCGA and FLOC will make the blacklist debate a moot issue through the development of a system of seniority based on number of years worked, growers' requests, and union membership. The contract's non-discrimination clause, a three-step grievance procedure, and camp representatives in labor camps will oversee implementation and protection of workers' rights. FLOC will have union organizers present in Mexico to enforce this agreement and assure the elimination of the blacklist.
The agreement is a new initiative to bring the entire agricultural industry of North Carolina together to work on different issues that require investigation and long-term development. Standing committees with the NCGA and other public entities will improve housing, health care, and examine issues of fair trade in regards to competitive growers and industries that compete with workers and growers under this agreement. The Union and the NCGA will approach the Mexican government together concerning graft, bribery, and blackmail committed by recruiters and Mexican police.
The agreement covers a broad range of crops throughout the entire state from the late days of February to the harvest of the last Christmas trees in November.
FLOC President, Baldemar Velasquez stated, "This agreement will set an important standard to the rest of the agricultural industry. Everyone else almost exclusively utilizes undocumented workers and the conditions of those workers are tragic and shameful."
H-2A worker Jose Hernandez-Coronado said, "We will continue struggling and give it all we got, because there is still work to do. We will never forget those that started this, those that made it possible, those workers and leaders who were in the front lines of the campaign and the union. Right now we do it for ourselves and for our families in Mexico, but we also sign this contract for the future generations who will come in the coming years. Hasta la Victoria, somos hermanos en la lucha."
Benefits of the FLOC contract with NCGA
- The Union will be the tool for negotiating wags, working and living conditions for the lives of the members
- There will be a seniority system in which workers will be eligible to come based on growers' request, number of years worked, and union membership. No worker will be unfairly denied the opportunity to come as an H2A worker.
- No worker will be discriminated against based on gender, religion, age, national origin, color, race, or union participation.
- If a worker is transferred, he has the right to file a grievance if he believes the transfer to be unjust or unacceptable.
- Under the contract, workers can file complaints about any abuse or injustice through a Grievance Procedure. This process consists of 3 steps and should resolve the problem in less than 21 days.
- There will be a camp representative for every 20 workers who will be trained by the union to be able to resolve grievances immediately in the camps. The representative will also:
- Be in charge of informing the workers when pesticides are being applied
- Help resolve problems with other workers
- Communicate with the Union about meetings, services, and problems
- The Dunlop Commission will be used as a neutral party to resolve problems that cannot be resolved between the Union and the Association.
- The Union must be informed 24 hours in advance of firing any worker so that the union will have time to defend the worker.
- The Union can request reports of the chemicals and pesticides used in the fields. When applying pesticides, the farmers must inform the workers in advance of which pesticides are used and how much time the workers should wait before entering the fields.
- If a worker is injured at work and requests medical attention, the grower will pay him for a full day's work, even if he is not able to work the rest of the day.
- If a close family member dies, the worker will have the opportunity to return home on his own cost and will receive three days paid leave if he returns with proof of the funeral.
- Committees will be developed to look at issues of improving housing, health care, approaching industries about price increases and other issues that emerge. The union and the Association will seek funds to make this possible.
- The cucumber pickers whose farms sell to Mt. Olive Pickle Company will receive a wage increase of 10% over the next 3 years, and the Union is committed to approaching additional industries.
- There will be a new process for returning home so that all those who complete their contract can receive their reimbursements once the sweet potato harvest needs are filled.
- The recruiters in Mexico will provide a detailed receipt of all fees paid to all the contracted workers.
- The Union and the Association have committed to talking with the government of Mexico about bus robberies during the trip here and bribery by recruiters and police, and talking with the US government about farmworker and guestworker legislation.