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FLOC protest supports fight of migrant tobacco workers

 

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent
Photos by Kevin and Rico, La Prensa 

 

TOLEDO, June 30, 2018: Drivers had to slow down to navigate around orange barrels along Bancroft St. in Toledo Saturday afternoon, so it was hard to miss the roughly 30 protestors holding flags and yelling chants outside a 7-11 store.

 

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) held its monthly protest, hoping to put pressure on RJ Reynolds to recognize the harsh conditions migrant farmworkers continue to face in the tobacco fields of North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and elsewhere. Many of the protestors were leaders of local organized labor and members of the FLOC Homies Union.

 

“We want to let them know that we are with them, because the conditions that they are working in the fields and the inhumane conditions on the property they live in, the huts, and also the wages—oftentimes they’re being stolen from them,” said Ramón Pérez, a FLOC organizer.

 

Efforts to improve those working and living conditions have stretched back more than a decade now, according to Pérez, with little movement on the part of RJ Reynolds top officials. The tobacco company has yet to come to the negotiating table to reach a collective bargaining deal.

 

“Ten years is way too long, so now we’re raising the pressure,” said Pérez. “We’re picketing the 7-11 store and we’ll be doing the same at Circle K in the near future.”
 

Both convenience store chains carry the VUSE e-cigarette brand, which is made and sold by RJ Reynolds. The aim is to hurt the company financially by convincing the stores to take the product off the shelves. An e-cigarette boycott would not directly hurt the tobacco workers themselves financially.
 

FLOC leaders approached the store owner directly about removing the VUSE electronic cigarette products from his shelves. According to Pérez, that brand represents about one-third of RJ Reynolds company sales these days. Two other convenience store chains in the U.S. also are targets of the protests and boycott.

 

  

“This is our show of solidarity with the farm workers and we’re going to keep going until we get that agreement,” said Pérez.

 

“We have to keep going, because if they take away one right of legal process, what other rights are they going to take away—and from whom are they going to take them away?” wondered Raúl Ledesma, a retired Jeep worker.

 

Ledesma worried that big business can do whatever it wants when there’s a government willing to let them get away with it. Unchecked, he believes the abuses against working people will only get worse.

 

“They’re going to take away our guns, they’re going to take away abortion. What other laws do they want to change? Everybody’s entitled to legal process. Apparently, it’s not working. So we’re out here to take a stand and let people know that we can do it,” said Ledesma. “We will stand together and fight—whatever it takes.”

 

Ray Wood, president of UAW Local 14, which represents Toledo Powertrain workers, and Bob Hall, president of CWA Local 4319. Latino protestors included FLOC, FLOC Homies, Lourdes Santiago, Martha Delgado, Carlos Ruiz, Marisol Ibarra, and Rick Keel.

 

Copyright © 1989 to 2018 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/02/18 21:09:02 -0700.

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