04/13/06 — Migrant workers union opens office in Dudley

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Migrant workers union opens office in Dudley

By Turner Walston
Published in News on April 13, 2006 1:48 PM

Farm Labor Organizing Committee officially opened its new North Carolina office Wednesday evening at 4354 U.S. Highway 117 Alternate in Dudley.

"Welcome to our new home," said Leticia Zavala, the state FLOC director, as a crowd of attendees cheered.

FLOC is a union representing migrant farmworkers. The organization was founded in 1967 and has offices in Toledo, Ohio, and in Monterrey, Mexico.

Since coming to North Carolina in 1996, FLOC has maintained headquarters in Benson and Faison. For the past four years, the organization in Wayne County was housed in the La Palmita store before moving to its new offices across the road.

The union's five-year boycott of Mt. Olive Pickle Co. ended in 2004 with an agreement between the company and the North Carolina Growers Association. FLOC had insisted Mt. Olive Pickle Co. buy cucumbers only from growers who employed union members. The company agreed to raise prices it paid to cucumber growers to help them increase wages but did not agree to buy only from farmers who used union labor.

The first part of the evening featured a panel of eastern North Carolina workers talking about their experiences seeking better working and living conditions with help from FLOC.

Juan Ignacio Montes spoke concerning conditions at meat processing plants at which he has worked.

Montes said the company was billing employees for safety equipment and charging them as much as $800 to get hired. Other restrictions were just as onerous, he said.

"They didn't want us to go to the bathroom," Montes said.

He said that at one time the company wanted to pay workers strictly through direct bank deposits. That put many workers in a hardship, he said.

"A lot of people don't know how to read and write, much less use an ATM card," he said.

He said many workers lacking legal documentation feel as if they have few rights.

"The biggest fear of our workers is the fact that they're undocumented. The company always intimidates them on that side," Montes said.

Annie Dove, who works at O'Berry Center, spoke on behalf of UE 150, which organizes public sector workers. Mrs. Dove said Hispanic farm workers face the same problems many American-born workers face.

"We have the same issues," she said. "Every day, just to meet our basic human needs, it's going up every day, but we don't see an increase in our wages."

Following the panel discussion and dinner, a grand opening ceremony was held.