Farm Labor Activists Get Audience with Reynolds American Shareholders
Farm labor activists want Reynolds American to fight on behalf of North Carolina’s tobacco workers.Thursday morning in downtown Winston-Salem, about 300 members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) protested outside Reynolds American on North Main Street. Inside, the annual shareholder's meeting was taking place. FLOC president Baldemar Velasquez attended the meeting and explained how Reynolds can use its influence to improve working conditions for thousands of tobacco workers in our state. Valesquez says most of them tend to be documented and undocumented immigrants.
“Reynolds American being one of the largest companies in North Carolina has to be a leader in reforming these practices and transforming the industry ," said Valesquez. "Beginning with stop relying on human trafficking for your labor supply. Two, end the fighting in the labor camps with contract farmers. Three guarantee protection from retaliation if workers complain against abuses,” says Valesquez.
According to the Department of Labor, around 130,000 immigrant work on farms in North Carolina in some capacity. Meanwhile, Reynolds American spokesman, David Howard, says the company is proactive on behalf of all farm workers, not just those who pick tobacco. “The multi-lateral farm labor practices group is up and running and meeting regularly, including meetings with FLOC to address such issues as freedom of association, grievance mechanisms and child labor," says Howard.
"Worker safety programs have been established on all of the North Carolina tobacco farms with whom we contract. Through our contributions with Telemond, a non-profit organization in Raleigh, N.C., the scope of their program to improve farm worker housing has more than doubled and renovations have been done to benefit more than 650 farm workers in North Carolina,” explains Howard. According to Howard, Reynolds executives will meet with Velasquez and other FLOC members later this month to continue discussions.