AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Shuler Visits NC Tobacco Fields

Shuler CS visit group pic

On Saturday August 17, FLOC hosted AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Schuler for a Camp Solidarity visit. Accompanying her were five organizers from the United Steel Workers, representatives from the NC AFL-CIO, President of Farmworker Justice Bruce Goldstein, and several other FLOC supporters and allies.

Mr. Goldstein and FLOC attorney Bob Willis, who have played an integral role in advocating for farmworkers’ rights in immigration reform negotiations, began the visit with an overview of the current status of reform and how it could affect farmworkers and their union contracts. President Velasquez presented on the progress of the Reynolds Campaign, and later led the group out to the labor camps to talk with workers. The delegation visited a camp in Sampson County where, huddled in a small dining room, they talked to the workers about their work, their families and their personal struggles. “I have been living in the United States for 40 years and have been working in the fields since the age of 17,” One worker told the group. He explained that when he was mugged a couple of years ago, he lost all forms of identification, and has not been able to go to the consulate to get an ID since it is 2 hours away and he has no transportation. Showing the delegation the scraps of paper scribbled with phone numbers in his wallet, he talked about the difficulty of being away from home and staying in touch with family back in Mexico. “Sometimes I’m afraid that they might think that I’m dead.”

The group also visited another camp in Wilson County, where the group heard from two workers about the difficulty surviving on the low wages farm work provides. These particular workers have been working at the farm for 6 years and paid the minimum wage, have never received a raise, and do not receive overtime pay, even though they often work over 60 hours per week. The workers led the group to a nearby tobacco field where they explained how tobacco is harvested to the delegates.

After visiting the camps the delegation reconvened at the FLOC office to have dinner with FLOC union members and community leaders. FLOC is very grateful to all who took the time to travel to North Carolina to participate in this important solidarity building experience. Many thanks to Mollie Relihan from USW, who documented the day with photos which you can see here.