Union Members Intensify Commitment to Fight for Union Recognition in Southern Tobacco Fields

On March 14th and 15th, close to 50 rank-and-file union leaders convened in Monterrey, Mexico for the 7th National Congress for H2A Guest Workers. This year’s Congress focused on preparing H2A farmworkers to organize in North Carolina by providing them with updates on FLOC campaigns and trainings on how to be an effective union leader.

Before the trainings began, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez gave workers an update on the state of the H2A program, highlighting the role FLOC played in advancing visa processing following increased scrutiny of the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) by the USCIS. All of the visas that have been approved thus far have been because of the collaboration between the NCGA, FLOC officers, and the Dunlop Commission, demonstrating to workers that unions can create stability in agricultural work. Workers next received an update on FLOC’s Reynolds Campaign, and learned that after two years of negotiations, the tobacco company would still rather implement programs that only touch the surface of the issues in the NC fields rather than sign an agreement with FLOC, guaranteeing labor rights in their supply chain.

In the afternoon, union leaders led and participated in a series of workshops covering a range of important issues including labor rights under the NCGA contract, organizing workers in labor camps, the grievance procedure, the Affordable Care Act and Taxes, and the bid System under the NCGA contract. Participation was at an all-time high during these workshops as many FLOC members assumed leadership roles. Luis, a long time FLOC member and leader urged members to “fight for their rights on the job, not be afraid to file a grievance, and to urge others to become union members to have a stronger union.”

Union leader, Jesus, informs workers of their rights under the NCGA contract.

The second day of the congress began with the leaders voting unanimously to accept the Union’s financial report. Union leaders then nominated delegates to a committee to discuss contract negotiations with the NCGA, as the union pushes for a stronger agreement, with more benefits for members. ” The union has given us the opportunity to have a stable job in NC, and I know that the union will always have our back” said Marino, “I will continue to encourage others to join the union and defend their rights.”

The conference wrapped up with workers presenting the results from their individual workshops to the entire congress. President Velasquez commented, “This is the most fired up I have seen our membership in our seven years of holding these congresses. I can tell they are really starting to see the strength of the Union and everything it can do in improving conditions in North Carolina.”

Special thanks to Atty. Leonel Rivero, FLOC’s attorney in the unsolved murder case of FLOC organizer, Santiago Cruz, Francisco Jimenez from CNPA-MOCRI delivered a statement of solidarity, and Lorraine Clewer, from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center in Mexico, who was a sponsor of the meeting.