In 1978, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) launched the largest agricultural strike in the history of the Midwest when 2,000 farmworkers walked off the fields, demanding a guaranteed minimum wage, an end to pesticide spraying while workers were in the fields, outdoor plumbing at the shacks they lived in, and work site toilets. Some growers were willing to negotiate, but the big canneries, including Campbell's, refused.
FLOC Members in Front of Campbell Soup Company Headquarters
For six years, FLOC struck and boycotted Campbell, but the company wouldn't budge, claiming that it wasn't responsible for farmworker conditions since farmworkers were not employed by Campbell but by the farmers with whom Campbell contracted. The archaic and unfair system called "crop contracting" or "sharecropping" allowed big food processors like Campbell to dictate the terms of annual contracts with farmers, thus giving them a "controlling voice" in the fields and the marketplace, while denying any responsibility for the squalid living and working conditions of farmworkers.
CCI's Ray Rogers called Baldemar Velasquez, president of FLOC, in the summer of 1984 and suggested FLOC needed another approach. Baldemar agreed. Ray and partner Ed Allen visited several farm labor camps in Ohio and Michigan, met dozens of men, women and children who harvested produce for Campbell, and got a close look at the deplorable conditions in which they lived and worked.
CCI worked pro bono for FLOC, researching Campbell's corporate structure, developing a Corporate Campaign strategy, producing literature and mailings and providing training, support and advice as well as office space in New York City. In addition to its tough, capable leadership, FLOC had assembled a committed, energetic and bright group of volunteers ready to take on the world. CCI offered them a whole new campaign strategy and as much backup support as possible. The strategy was outlined in a Nov. 27, 1984 Associated Press story which appeared in The New York Times under the headline, "Farm Group Boycotting Campbell Puts Focus on Financial Concerns." It described how FLOC supporters showed up in Cherry Hill, NJ for the annual meeting of Campbell Soup. While several hundred stockholders met under heavy security at a hotel, farmworkers from New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida chanted "Boycott Campbell" and sang union songs outside. Representatives of religious and other organizations raised farmworker issues on the floor of the meeting.
Leaflet produced by CCI
The AP article continued: "For its Campbell strategy, Corporate Campaign has selected three financial concerns that share directors with the food processor… Prudential's chairman and chief executive officer, Robert Beck, is a member of Campbell's board of directors, as is Andrew Lewis, an Equitable director. R. Gordon McGovern, the president of Campbell, serves on the boards of the Philadelphia National Bank and its parent company Corestates Financial Corporation."
The same article revealed that the AFL-CIO had sent a letter to all its international unions and federations and to other labor leaders, saying in part: "The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) has initiated a corporate campaign against Campbell… You have probably already received a letter seeking money and support. FLOC has tried unsuccessfully to arrange three-party negotiations with the farmers and Campbell, but failing this, now is taking the route of the corporate campaign… The AFL-CIO has not approved a boycott of Campbell and does not support this Corporate Campaign..."
On Feb. 20, 1986, FLOC issued a press release headed, "FLOC Signs Three-Way Contracts with Campbell and Growers." It began, "We have a great many people to thank for their help in gaining these contacts, not the least of whom is Ray Rogers... Campbell has never moved so fast as in the past year and a half during which the corporate campaign was operating."
The contracts signed on Feb. 19 by FLOC, 24 midwestern farmers and the Campbell Soup Co. covered farmworkers working in the tomato and cucumber fields of Ohio and Michigan. FLOC was able to announce that "the tomato and cucumber contracts include insurance policies, wage increases, 48-hour grievance resolution, paid union representatives and the establishment of committees to study the issues of pesticide protection, housing, health care, safety and day care. Furthermore, the contract provides for a special committee to work on a phase-out of the exploitive "sharecropping " system in the cucumber fields."