Want to highlight a post by James Parks at AFL-CIO blog on the kickoff of a new campaign by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee to help 25,000 tobacco harvesters form a union. You can help.
Join FLOC in Fighting for Justice for Tobacco Workers
by James Parks, Oct 25, 2007
Thousands of workers who harvest tobacco each year contract green tobacco sickness caused by exposure to harmful chemicals in tobacco leaves. Many of these workers receive little or no medical attention.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which recently won a voice on the job for 8,000 migrant workers in North Carolina in a historic labor agreement, now is helping more than 25,000 tobacco harvesters in the Tarheel State to form a union. North Carolina leads the country in tobacco production with an approximate 2006 annual tobacco farm income of $506.2 million.
This weekend, hundreds of working people from Washington, D.C., and cities across the nation will join FLOC members and the North Carolina State AFL-CIO for a rally in Winston-Salem to support the tobacco workers' fight for a better life.
The rally will kick off Sunday at the headquarters of R.J. Reynolds (RJR), the second-largest tobacco company in the United States. RJR has a long history of opposition to the freedom of its workers to join a union.
If you're in DC, the Maryland/DC Labor Council is taking a busload of activists to the events in Winston-Salem. Click here for more info.
RJR's products include Camel, Winston, Salem, Kool, Pall Mall, Doral, Misty and Capri. It makes one out of every three cigarettes sold in the United States, controlling six of the top 10 brands.
Susan Ivey, CEO of RJR's parent, Reynolds American, has refused to meet with FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez to discuss the plight of the tobacco harvesters, their need for dignity, respect and safe working conditions and the recognition of FLOC as their union.
You can help the tobacco harvesters by writing to Ivey and asking her to meet with FLOC. The address is: Susan Ivey, CEO, Reynolds American Inc., 401 North Main St., Winston-Salem, NC 27102-28066. The fax number is 336-741-0881. Please send a copy of your letter to FLOC, 1221 Broadway, Toledo, Ohio, 43609.
The mostly immigrant workers come into daily contact with nicotine that is absorbed into their bodies. Nicotine not only is classified as one of the most toxic poisons, but it also raises the body temperature and increases a worker's dehydration. In the past two years, six workers have died in North Carolina tobacco fields, most of them due to heat stroke.
In addition, most of these farm workers suffer serf-like hardships such as working long hours of stoop labor, being harassed in their work, living in abject poverty, living in miserable housing in their labor camps and being denied basic labor and human rights. If they complain about mistreatment or their productivity declines from tobacco sickness, they can be fired without question.
Big tobacco companies have a monopoly on the procurement system for tobacco, as well as the marketing and distribution of their products. They determine what price they pay farmers, which directly affects the pay and conditions of field workers.
FLOC says this system with layers of subcontracts is designed to avoid responsibility for what happens down the procurement chain.