The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), is a farm worker union founded in the mid-1960s in Ohio by Baldemar Velasquez. It is vitally important to the farm worker movement for creating and popularizing the corporate campaign.
Historical Importance of FLOC
Before FLOC, farm workers struggling for better working conditions targeted the growers directly above them. FLOC moved beyond this model, successfully mobilizing farm workers and the general public to put pressure on the powerful corporations that buy from the growers, instead of the less-powerful growers who source their products to corporations. Utilizing nonviolent tactics like marches and public boycotts, FLOC was the first group to use a corporate campaign to win a seat for farm workers at the bargaining table along with growers and corporations.
FLOC pioneered a historic three-way labor contract between farm workers, Campbell Soup, and tomato and cucumber growers in Ohio and Michigan. The contract was signed in 1986 after 2 years of talks and corporate campaigning.
Thus, FLOC can be considered both a farm worker labor union and a social movement in its own right. It has two critical goals:
- Change the structure of society to benefit farm workers. In particular, the labor union process places workers as equals at the bargaining table, and provides an effective structure for self-determination.
- Build a strong popular base of supporters for justice. Corporations have tremendous economic and political power, but if consumers work together to hold these corporations accountable, they can collectively tip the balance of power to bring justice to farm workers. For example, millions of people boycotting certain products can tip the balance of power.
FLOC has continued to pursue these goals and win victories in its campaigns with cucumber pickers, growers and corporations in Ohio and Michigan, and tobacco pickers in North Carolina (notable because of the strong anti-union tradition in the U.S. South). Their most recent campaign targets the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Corporation.
About the Reynolds Campaign
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, based in North Carolina, is the second-largest tobacco company in the United States, manufacturing about one of every three cigarettes sold in the country.
While big tobacco corporations make billions, tobacco farm workers live in poverty, face racism, harassment, nicotine poisoning, lethal pesticides, miserable housing in labor camps and denial of basic human rights and labor protections. For instance, due to lack of mandatory water breaks for farm workers and the fact that nicotine increases body temperature, nine farm workers have died of heatstroke in the past few years.
The tragedies, which occur daily in the fields, are due to industry-wide problems that need to be addressed by those who have control over the tobacco market. RJ Reynolds is at the top of this list.
FLOC has continuously called on RJ Reynolds to meet with representatives of the farm workers it relies on to make its products. Together with FLOC, RJ Reynolds can use its tremendous power to initiate changes that will improve the lives of growers and farm workers alike.
Recently, FLOC has also called on regional chains, such as Kangaroo Express, 7-Eleven, and Wawa, who all make profits from the sales of Reynolds products, to be a part of the solution. These companies could make a difference in the lives of thousands of North Carolina tobacco farm workers by communicating with FLOC and passing on consumer’s concerns to Reynolds American.
A Small Step Forward
After years of struggle by FLOC and allies- and Reynolds refusing to take action on abuse in the fields- the campaign took a small step forward in May 2011, when Reynolds pledged:
• To use an independent third party to monitor working conditions in tobacco fields that supply to Reynolds.
• To support a council of tobacco industry members, growers, farm workers and other stakeholders.
Because Reynolds previously outright denied exploitation in the fields, these pledges represent an important shift in the campaign. It is now more important than ever before to keep up the pressure to make sure Reynolds turns its words into action. FLOC continues to struggle for better conditions for farm workers in North Carolina’s tobacco fields. ¡Hasta la Victoria (until victory is achieved)!
More Recent Progress
In May of 2012, Reynolds finally agreed to sit down with FLOC in a multi-stakeholder group, which came to be called Keystone, or the Farm Labor Practices Group (FLPG). Reynolds believes FLPG meets OxFam America’s standard for an industry council compromised of growers, manufacturers and farm workers despite evidence to the contrary. Two years later, the FLPG continues to meet without having achieved any real results to benefit tobacco workers.
On April 30th, 2014, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez traveled to London, England to attend British American Tobacco’s (BAT) Annual General Meeting. BAT represents 42% of Reynolds American and has 5 board members on the Reynolds Board. BAT, therefore, represents an important stakeholder in the FLOC Reynolds Campaign. While in London, President Velasquez received confirmation from two members of the British Parliament to his earlier invitation to visit the fields in North Carolina this summer. This will be an unprecedented trip to the U.S. to see first-hand the abuses farm workers experience.
In May, 2014, Philip Morris International, the largest purchaser of tobacco products in the Southeast, agreed to meet with FLOC.
What YAYAs are doing:
YAYAs have taken action in support of FLOC by:
• Raising awareness about issues faced by tobacco farm workers
• Participating in FLOC’s days of action by leafleting outside Chase bank branch locations and WaWa stores
• Organizing actions and events in their communities
• Holding boards of directors accountable
• Traveling to North Carolina to support FLOC at the Reynolds American Tobacco shareholders’ meeting once a year.
Learn more about past actions in our YAYAs in Action blog.
Take Action on behalf of tobacco farm workers!
• Sign up to receive our Action Alerts and newsletter to be notified about upcoming opportunities to take action in your area.
• Contact us to set up a presentation in your community about issues faced by tobacco farm workers.
• Make a donation to support our work.
• Visit FLOC’s website to learn more about FLOC and their campaigns.