[Homestead] Common decency in employment
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Fri Sep 17 11:59:35 EDT 2004
Wouldn't exist but for fighting and dying by unions and union workers.
Growers' Group Signs the First Union Contract for Guest Workers
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: September 17, 2004
The North Carolina Growers Association, which represents 1,000 farmers,
signed a union contract yesterday covering 8,500 guest workers from
Mexico - a move that the association and union said was the first union
contract in the nation for guest workers.
At the signing ceremony at a church in Raleigh, the Mount Olive Pickle
Company, the nation's second largest pickle company, announced that it
had signed a separate contract with the union, the Farm Labor Organizing
Committee, ending a five-and-a-half-year boycott campaign against the
The two contracts end a long, bitter dispute in which the Farm Labor
Organizing Committee accused Mount Olive of using cucumber growers who
mistreated their workers. In organizing a boycott that was backed by the
National Council of Churches, the union said that workers employed by
Mount Olive's growers often lived in squalid housing and that one worker
had died of heat prostration and another of heat prostration or exposure
"The company is tremendously relieved to have the boycott ended,'' said
Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee,
which is based in Toledo, Ohio. "They were getting tired of all the
Bill Bryan, Mount Olive's president, said the boycott hardly hurt the
company's sales, except in pockets of the Midwest. But he acknowledged
it was time-consuming and annoying to have to respond to questions about
why his company was being boycotted.
"We have always said we would be interested in settling the boycott if
we could do so with reasonable terms that we felt were appropriate for
our company," said Mr. Bryan, who asserted that the boycott was based
partly on inaccurate information and unfair accusations.
The agreement with the North Carolina growers is unusual because it is
the first union contract ever signed by farmers in the state, which has
a history of hostility to unions, and because the contract provides for
a union hiring hall in Mexico to help supply guest workers.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Velasquez hailed the agreement with the
growers' association because it gives unionized farm workers a foothold
in the South and because it should encourage workers to speak up without
fear of retaliation. He also praised the agreement because it provides
grievance procedures and a seniority system, which he said would
effectively eliminate a blacklist that prevented guest workers who
complained from being rehired. Spokesmen for the growers denied that any
Mr. Bryan said the agreement Mount Olive signed would help workers by
raising their wages by a total of 10 percent over three years. Under
federal regulations, agricultural guest workers in North Carolina under
the H-2A temporary visa program are to be paid at least $8.06 an hour,
with a piece rate equal to 44 percent of the value of what they pick.
Mr. Bryan said his company would raise the price it pays its 60 growers,
a move that would help raise piece rates so workers could earn $10 to
$12 an hour. Mount Olive also agreed to pay a 3 percent price bonus to
growers who agreed to provide workers compensation coverage.
In Mount Olive's agreement with the union, the company promised to
participate in various committees organized by the growers' association
to study how to improve housing and health care for the farm workers. In
addition, the union and growers' association said they would jointly
contact the Mexican government to discuss graft, bribery and blackmail
carried out by recruiters of migrant workers, especially illegal immigrants.
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