Big Tobacco and US Dept. of Labor Collaborate to Support Abusive Employers in Agriculture Farmworker Union Opens Anti-Corruption Campaign

Raleigh, NC- On Thursday October 22 a delegation of H2A guestworkers, members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee deliver a petition to the Trump Labor Department calling for them to “do their job” after a case has been lingering in the government bureaucracy for over a year, as part of the launch of a new anti-corruption campaign in the Agricultural Guestworker Program.

In September 2019 a group of workers complained to US DOL about significant workplace abuses, including wage theft and health risks at Farm Labor Contractor Salvador Barajas and OJ Smith Farms in Whitakers, NC. US DOL ignored ongoing retaliation but settled with Barajas and told workers they would receive backpay from the labor contractor in November 2019 and issued a press release in March 2020 celebrating a $500,000 fine for the labor contractor. However, to date, no one has seen any money or received an update.

“We haven’t heard anything about our case since the first day the labor inspector showed up at the farm. We demand that they tell the victims what is happening with our wages. Because we’re union members, we brought a private claim against the grower, but the many workers that haven’t had that opportunity are depending on the Labor Department. We sill, we want to know why Salvador has been able to get off without paying.” -Martin, FLOC Member

This is the same DOL that collaborates with the tobacco companies through the Farm Labor Practices Group (FLPG), formed by Reynolds, which contains no worker representation and has refused for years to assist in any of the dozens of cases of human rights abuses FLOC has provided to them, from sexual harassment, wage theft, to threats of violence. Reynolds and other tobacco companies have funneled millions of dollars in in-kind contributions to the US DOL encouraging them to run training programs for the industry.

“The US DOL has chosen collaboration with violators of workers’ rights and big tobacco instead of enforcing the law and forcing corrupt labor contractors and the growers who use them to pay what they owe. We want the US DOL to use our tax dollars to enforce the law, not help the tobacco companies hide abuses and violations in their supply chain.” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez.

FLOC has shown the US DOL and tobacco industry significant proof that corrupt labor contractors and farm supervisors have created criminal networks throughout the Eastern United States, violating civil and criminal laws with impunity. Now, the union is calling on these officials to implement a moratorium on approval for H2A Labor Contractor licensing until they can build a realistic enforcement mechanism ends the corruption in the program that has caused much suffering and grown in recent years as crop prices stagnate and growers seek ways to cut corners and labor costs.

Webinar Teach-In Press Conference: Wednesday, Oct 21, 7 pm EST: Registration link here

In-person delegation: Thursday, Oct 22, 12 pm EST at the US DOL Wage and Hour office, 4407 Bland Rd, Raleigh, NC