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July 2010, Volume 16, Number 3

Florida and NC: FLOC and CIW Boycotts

Boycotts, asking consumers not to buy particular products to reduce demand for a product or commodity and put pressure on growers with whom farm workers have a dispute, have a long history in agriculture. The UFW won its first grape contract in California in 1966 after boycotting Schenley liquor products, and achieved contracts with most table grape growers in 1970 after a three-year boycott of table grapes. According to polls, about 12 percent of US adults avoided table grapes in the late 1960s, and grower prices for table grapes fell.

Secondary boycotts of retailers and other nonfarmers were restricted in California by the 1975 ALRA, which gave farm workers the right to organize into unions and established a state agency to supervise elections and to remedy unfair labor practices.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, based in Toledo, Ohio, used secondary boycotts of pickle-makers Campbell's and Heinz to win three-way contracts between FLOC, processors Campbell's and Heinz, and the growers from whom they bought cucumbers. FLOC negotiated wages with Campbell's and Heinz, and these firms required growers to abide by the terms of the FLOC agreement when hiring workers in order to obtain contracts to grow cucumbers for them.

FLOC used the same secondary boycott strategy to win an agreement in North Carolina with Mount Olive Pickle Company and the North Carolina Growers Association. The NCGA imports Mexican H-2A workers who are sent to the farmers who produce cucumbers for Mount Olive, as well as to work on flue-cured tobacco and sweet potato farms.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers used a similar secondary-boycott strategy to win wage increases for Florida tomato pickers. After hunger strikes failed to persuade the 16 major Florida growers to negotiate higher wages, the CIW organized boycotts of Yum Brands (Taco Bell) in 2001, getting more than 20 Taco Bell outlets on college campuses closed.

Yum in 2005 agreed to pay an additional 1.5 cents a pound for Florida tomatoes, with 1.2 cents going to pickers and 0.3 cents to growers to handle the administrative costs of distributing the extra penny-a-pound. McDonald's (2007), Burger King (2008), and Subway (2008) signed similar agreements with the CIW, as did retailer Whole Foods (2008). Food service providers such as Aramark, Bon Appetit and Compass, which operate cafeterias on many college campuses, signed similar agreements with the CIW.

Most tomato growers refused to implement these CIW-won agreements, so the additional money for pickers has been accumulating in escrow accounts.

In 2009, the CIW turned to Florida's largest supermarket chain, 1,000-store Publix, urging Publix to sign an agreement with the CIW pledging to raise the price it pays to the growers of the tomatoes it sells so that those growers can raise the piece rate wages of pickers by a cent a pound. The CIW said that the average piece rate is $0.45 per 32-pound bucket; an extra penny a pound would increase the rate to $0.77 a bucket.

Publix countered that "This is a labor dispute between a supplier and their employees, and we do not intervene in labor disputes." A three-day march in April 2010 involved 1,500 marchers who drew attention to the CIW's campaign against Publix.

The CIW, which describes itself as "a community-based worker organization," helped the US Department of Justice to prosecute a labor contractor for enslaving workers in 2000.

In 2010, the CIW began using a farm truck to highlight what it calls widespread "slavery" among the workers employed by the labor contractors who recruit many Florida farm workers. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents the 15 largest tomato growers, countered charges that its grower members enslave workers by saying "it defies logic that our workforce would return every year if we did not treat them fairly."

Ag-Mart. Florida tomato grower Ag-Mart (Santa Sweets) settled a class-action suit alleging unpaid wages and substandard housing for almost $1 million. Up to 13,000 workers could receive a maximum $2,000 if they file claims; about 1,000 signed up in the first two months.

The North Carolina Pesticide Board in June 2010 agreed to a $25,000 settlement with Ag-Mart, which was accused of using pesticides that led to birth defects in several workers' children. The North Carolina investigation began in 2002, and workers testified in 2008 that Ag-Mart supervisors forced them to return to fields too soon after pesticides were sprayed, and the NCPB fined Ag-Mart $24,000. Ag-Mart appealed, and the June 2010 settlement ends the case with a pledge from Ag-Mart to develop a training program for farm workers.

North Carolina Tobacco. FLOC has targeted Reynolds American Inc, the largest US buyer of tobacco, to persuade growers to recognize FLOC as the union representing the farm workers they hire. Since the end of federal price supports in 2004, tobacco growers contract directly with Reynolds and other buyers of tobacco leaf [Between 1933 and 2004, the federal government allotted the right to grow tobacco in exchange for a government-set minimum support price; the allotment and price support system is being phased out between 2004 and 2014].

FLOC bought shares in Reynolds so that it could ask Reynolds to recognize FLOC at the annual share holders meeting in May 2010. Reynolds' Judy Lambeth responded that FLOC should deal with tobacco growers who hire farm workers. She said: "FLOC is specifically targeting Reynolds? The correct target is establishment of an effective guest-worker program through comprehensive immigration reform." She continued: "what we have learned from others' experience in these multiparty agreements is that there is no guarantee that any additional money would reach or benefit workers. The main beneficiary of FLOC's multiparty agreements appears to be FLOC."

North Carolina farmers are planting fewer acres of flue-cured tobacco and reducing their hiring of H-2A workers; US flue-cured acreage declined from 224,000 in 2009 to 207,000 in 2010. North Carolina farmers requested certification to fill 9,900 jobs with H-2A workers in 2009, and 8,900 in 2010.

FLOC won the right to represent the workers employed by growers who contracted with Mt. Olive Pickle Company in 2004, after several years of boycott activity. Mt. Olive, which produces the second-leading brand of US pickles, employs 500 workers year round and 300 seasonal workers.

Josh Shaffer, "Ag-Mart will pay $25,000 to state but owner keeps license," News Observer, June 10, 2010. Laura Layden, "Thousands of Ag-Mart workers may be eligible for money," Naples News, April 29, 2010. Griffith, David. 2008. Assessing the Impacts of Recent Economical and Political Developments on North Carolina?s Tobacco Farm Workers. The Rural Center. March. www.ncruralcenter.org/ Griffith, David. 2009. Unions without Borders: Organizing and Enlightening Immigrant Farm Workers. Anthropology of Work Review. Volume 30 Issue 2, Pp 54 ? 66.