05/12/04 — Methodists endorse boycott against Mt. Olive Pickle

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Methodists endorse boycott against Mt. Olive Pickle

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 12, 2004 2:04 PM

The United Methodist Church has endorsed a nationwide boycott against Mt. Olive Pickle Co.

Delegates decided in a close vote at the end of the 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which was held from April 27 until May 7 in Pittsburgh, to support the boycott.

The boycott is being led by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which is trying to force the company to make its suppliers negotiate labor contracts with the farm workers. The committee says cucumber-farm workers are being exploited.

The committee's president, Baldemar Valasquez, said the endorsement was significant, because the CEO of Mt. Olive Pickle Co. is a Methodist, and his friends were officials and delegates to the conference.

CEO Bill Bryan said the situation is out of the company's control, because it can't force farmers to negotiate with the committee. He also said his company has worked to improve farm laborers' conditions.

"Our company is responsive to the concerns about working conditions," said Bryan. "They're attacking a company that has been proactive in responding to the issues raised."

The company's cucumber suppliers in North Carolina have signed statements of compliance with farm employment regulations, he said.

The company has also found three growers interested in helping build housing for farm workers, he added. The housing project is a partnership with Duke University, the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church and the farmers.

The company is also in a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division in sharing information from the department to the growers and is in a partnership with Duke University in advocating for expanded workers-compensation insurance.

"We try to encourage good employment practices among our growers," said Bryan. "We offer educational workshops. We've hired a bilingual field manager."

He said he's disappointed that his church conference voted the way it did. Churches can be very political organizations, he said. But he's pleased with the support his company received from the N.C. Conference and the 22-member North Carolina delegation to the national conference.

"I don't agree with all of the resolutions adopted by the United Methodist Church, and this one I strongly disagree with," he said. "But I will continue to support the Methodist Church generally. I think that's true of anybody. I ignore the ones I disagree with, but this one is very close to home."

The endorsement of the boycott gained 53 percent of the votes. One of the delegates called Lynn Williams, the pickle company's community relations representative, on the Saturday morning after the vote.

She said the vote occurred in the last hour and a half of the conference with very limited debate. "Folks were tired and ready to go home," she said. "It boiled down to three minutes of discussion on the floor. Had it received a full hearing, chances are it could have been defeated."

Church officials say denomination-wide boycotts are rare in the United Methodist Church and can only be approved by General Conference. The delegates also voted to join the National Council of Churches in observing the Taco Bell boycott.

This boycott is in protest of Taco Bell's refusal to address the issue of alleged worker exploitation by its tomato suppliers.