Press Release: Farmworkers Launch Largest Organizing Campaign Since Chavez

For Immediate Release

Contact: Justin Flores, FLOC, (704) 577- 3480

Farmworkers Launch Largest Organizing Campaign Since Chavez
Effort will confront Reynolds American’s failure to guarantee basic labor rights

DUDLEY, NC – the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) announced a multinational campaign to give a voice and much needed rights to thousands of tobacco farmworkers in North Carolina through actions in London, UK and North Carolina targeted at Reynolds American and British American Tobacco. Many tobacco farmworkers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below poverty wages.

“This campaign will ensure Reynolds American takes real action to give tobacco farmworkers the voice they deserve,” said Baldemar Velasquez, FLOC President and former farmworker. “Reynolds American has thrown up a variety of smokescreens to distract from talking about freedom of association, but every attempt is a cosmetic solution that ignores the real issue: worker representation.”

The Sign-up campaign targeted at 5,000 tobacco farmworkers, called “Respect, Recognition, Raise!”, will highlight farmworker demands for dignified working conditions and adequate housing, recognition of the right to join a union and negotiate with their employer for fair terms, and the raising of wages to an equal and fair wage for all workers.

What remains to be seen is if Reynolds American and British American Tobacco will be as serious as they claim about freedom of association in their supply chain.

Javier, a tobacco farmworker from San Luis Potosi, Mexico who requested to remain anonymous, pointed out the need to address the state of fear in US tobacco fields if farmworkers are truly to enjoy their right to organize.

“I know that they don’t pay us what they’re supposed to, but I’m afraid to lose my job. I know that if one person complains, nothing will probably come of it, but if we come together maybe we’ll see some change. That’s why I want to help with this campaign this year, contacting all my friends in different labor camps. I’ve seen all the problems you can imagine working in tobacco.”

The campaign will run from April 30- September and include the following events:

1) British American Tobacco Meeting, London, UK – April 30: FLOC President Velasquez with the support of the IUF, UNITE, and the AFL-CIO, will address shareholders of Reynolds’ largest shareholder, British American Tobacco in London. Velasquez is supported by 41 members of British parliament.
2) Reynolds American Shareholder Meeting, Winston Salem, NC – May 8: Over 50 FLOC supporters will raise questions to RAI CEO Susan Cameron about the company failure to guarantee freedom of association. Hundreds of FLOC supporters and farmworker members will be demonstrating outside the meeting.
3) Organizing Drive, North Carolina – Late June- mid August: 5,000 farmworkers will be given the opportunity to sign cards in support of joining a union.
4) Visit Labor Camps – July 25-30: British parliamentarians James Sheridan and Ian Lavery as well as US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) will partake in a FLOC delegation, visiting labor camps in North Carolina.

ABOUT FLOC: FLOC was founded in 1967. Since its inception FLOC successfully organized farmworkers in the supply chain of various manufacturers, including Campbell’s Soup Company, Heinz, and Dean Foods. Its current agreement with the North Carolina Grower’s Association was won in 2004 through the Mt. Olive Pickle boycott. For more information on tobacco farmworker conditions, see Oxfam-FLOC report “State of Fear” or