FLOC, AFL-CIO, [Farm Labor Organizing Committee] based in Toledo, Ohio, represents thousands of migrant farmworkers. Corporate Campaign, Inc. (CCI) has a long history with FLOC and one of the greatest labor leaders in the U.S., Baldemar Velasquez, its president. CCI played a key role in helping FLOC get established on a sound footing when after a six-year strike and boycott, CCI provided the union with a whole new strategy and pro bono support to back it up. This helped lead to a historic and first contract with the Campbell Soup Co. and its growers. FLOC won a major victory in 2004 to represent farmworkers harvesting for Mt. Olive Pickle Co. for which we produced the brochure: "Before you buy this jar of pickles, think of the tragic human cost."
Ray Rogers explains how rent-a-cops acting as Winston-Salem police are actually on the payroll of Reynolds American
Now FLOC is taking on its biggest challenge, which is to represent some 30,000 farmworkers, most of whom travel from Mexico to harvest tobacco in North Carolina. FLOC presently represents about 7,000 of these workers.
Corporate Campaign outlined a corporate campaign strategy for the farmworkers' fight against Reynolds American (R.J. Reynolds Tobacco) that was well received by FLOC's executive board at a meeting in Monterey, Mexico in June 2007. In 2008, CCI prepared FLOC and its allies to have a powerful presence at Reynolds' May 6th stockholders' meeting at the company's corporate headquarters in Winston-Salem, NC. The shareholders meeting has become an annual protest event with FLOC supporters challenging corporate executives and board members inside the meeting while hundreds protest outside. CCI's Ray Rogers, at the 2008 annual meeting, made the following statement, which highlights key issues in FLOC's struggle against R.J. Reynolds:
CCI's mobile billboard takes to the streets at the
2010 Reynolds American Annual Shareholders Meeting
"Before I cast my votes, I would like to know whether each nominee for the board will continue supporting the same, irresponsible policies that have been allowed to fester. I'm referring to the dangerous, unhealthy and sometimes lethal working, living and traveling conditions that migrant workers in North Carolina's tobacco fields endure.
"Will the nominees continue to support RJ Reynolds callous indifference to the human cost of farmworker misery and exploitation? Will they allow the tragedy to continue, while stockholders and themselves benefit so handsomely?
"Will these board nominees start to monitor closely the incidence of serious work-related injuries and illnesses such as heat stroke, green tobacco sickness and pesticide contamination?
"Do they realize what a costly public relations nightmare is in store for the company when more of the public realizes that RJ Reynolds executives and board members simply don't care that they make their millions on the backs of workers who sweat and toil for pennies?
"And please don't suggest that farmworker exploitation is really only an issue between growers and the workers. Knowledgeable people can see that RJR clearly bears the greatest responsibility and has the power to change these horrible conditions.
"Well-informed people no longer accept Coca-Cola's claims that it's not Coke's problem, when its Colombian bottlers collaborate with paramilitary death squads to crush a union. Similarly, people of goodwill won't stand by silently, while RJ Reynolds shrugs off any responsibility for the shameful and scandalous state in which it has placed thousands of farmworkers and their families.
"Perhaps the most important question I must ask is: will the nominees work with farmworker representatives, specifically the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, to address these problems and correct them?
"Someone once said: In slavery there's a job for everyone. I'm here today with many others to state emphatically that society does not need those types of jobs and will not tolerate them.
"To the board members I ask, what are you going to do to make RJ Reynolds and the tobacco industry less unjust and predatory?"
The farmworkers with the support of many groups including the National Farmworker Ministry, the AFL-CIO, many local and national labor unions, religious leaders and community groups have continued to wage what is becoming an historic battle to improve the lives of tens of thousands of impoverished migrant farmworkers. In June 2010, Betsy Atkins was forced to resign from the board of Reynolds American after Chico's, a retail women's clothing chain operating in 48 states, gave her an ultimatum to leave the board or to leave Chico's because the company was becoming embroiled in FLOC's campaign.
In February 2011, Reynolds American's CEO Susan Ivey stepped down as Chair and CEO of Reynolds American because of her incompetence in dealing with the farmworkers campaign and supporters who continue to raise sensitive issues inside the annual meetings.
JP Morgan Chase, the tobacco giant's leading creditor is now a major target of the campaign.
For current information on FLOC's Reynolds Campaign, please visit: www.FLOC.com/wordpress/Reynolds-Campaign
Photos of North Carolina tobacco farmworkers by Nancy Siesel ©2010