“I stand here today, side by side with the NCGA…, because our jobs, where we have a good wage, a grievance mechanism, and the chance to give our family a better life, are becoming fewer and fewer, and this is the direct result of the exploitation of our brothers and sisters across the globe… We must get global manufacturers and retailers to adopt practices that allow all to sustain livelihoods here in the United States and our counterpart small farmers and farm workers in other parts of the world. This is not “us” against “them” but rather correcting a global supply chain that is equitable and sustainable for all. We must reconcile with the buyers of our commodities and help them see the wisdom of sustaining those that do the actual hard work on which their business depends.”
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez set the stage at a forum hosted by the union this weekend which brought organized labor, family farmers, various farmer groups, and farm workers together to discuss a topic of global importance: the current unsustainable agricultural supply chain that is leading to the disruption of small family farms and farm worker union jobs in the United States, and the incessant exploitation of our farmworker comrades across the globe. Read President Velasquez’s full speech here.
Over a 100 people showed up, with the vast majority constituting farm workers across North Carolina, some FLOC union members and some not, various workers from packing sheds from the surrounding areas, and many farmers themselves. Through a two-hour discussion, the joint goal emerged of keeping labor intensive, small family farms operating in the United States to maintain and expand farmworker jobs currently protected under our collective bargaining agreement, while simultaneously building global solidarity with our counterpart farm workers globally.
The discussion was chaired by Sarah Fox from the Dunlop Commission, the independent labor relations board that governs the collective bargaining agreement between the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA).
The thousands of farm workers on NCGA farms that are protected by a collective bargaining agreement are an outlier in the South where FLOC serves as the only farm worker union in the region. At the event, NCGA Assistant Director Lee Wicker recounted the economic pressures facing many farmers in North Carolina that are forcing many to either stop operating or to turn to farm labor contractors to cut costs in labor, which is leading to a dwindling in safe, protected jobs for these migrant workers. In the past three years, the NCGA has lost 100 farms, leading to a loss of around 600 jobs. Wicker underscored that one of the major contributors to the loss of farms and jobs is the inability of small farms to compete against imported agricultural goods that are kept at a low price through rampant exploitation of workers.
Participants in the discussion included Lee Wicker, the Assistant Director of the North Carolina Growers Association, Rudy Arredondo, the President and Founder of Latino Farmers & Ranchers International, Inc., a written statement from AFL-CIO International Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, a letter of support from Farm Aid and a resolution expressing support from the United Farm Workers.
Moving forward, we are forming a working group that includes various stakeholders, including FLOC, the NCGA, and other grassroot organizations, to establish concrete demands to support workers and farms in North Carolina, and our counterparts globally. Already, the group has promised meetings with senior staff at the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Labor.
Our goal is to create an equitable, agricultural supply chain that centers farmworkers, not corporate profit.