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Farmworkers Challenge Mt. Olive Pickle

by Baldemar Velasquez


The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) won a stunning victory with its unprecedented three-way agreement in 1986 with Campbell's Soup Co. and Midwestern produce growers (see Prism 12/94-1/95). Now FLOC is about to launch an all-out campaign to induce Mt. Olive Pickle Co. to recognize farmworkers' right to union representation and to redress their grievances.

You can expect this effort to make national news and draw solidarity from all over the world—unless, of course, Mt. Olive's CEO budges from his current intransigence.

"Organize the South," said the FLOC convention delegates last August, and everything we've learned during three decades of farmworker organizing is now being put to the test in North Carolina! Our target is the Mt. Olive Pickle Co., of Mt. Olive, NC, largest pickle producer in the South.

If it was difficult convincing farmers in Ohio that we had more in common with each other than with corporate agribusiness giants, it will be even more difficult in North Carolina.

If it was hard to persuade impoverished migrant workers in Ohio that they could improve their families' lives by sticking together with the union, it will be even harder in North Carolina.

If it was tough to generate support for organizing and boycotts in Ohio, it will be even tougher in the land of Jesse Helms!

But these challenges have never deterred us before, and they won't now. We know that farmworkers in North Carolina desperately need a union. We know that the union must organize in North Carolina to protect our gains in the Midwest. And we know that we simply will not go away until we have won. It is that dogged determination that helped us win in the past, and with it we will win again.

Average annual income for a migrant farmworker family of four is under $10,000. In North Carolina, few farms comply with minimal regulations for field sanitation, much less pesticide safety. It is no surprise then, that farmworkers are four times more likely than the national average to contract cancer, and have a life expectancy of barely 50 years.

Farmworkers harvesting pickles for the Mt. Olive Co. make one-fourth as much as unionized workers in the Midwest who harvest pickling cucumbers for Dean Foods Co., Aunt Jane Pickles Co. and Vlasic Foods Co.

It is easy to see what will happen to Midwest pickle production, to jobs for Midwest farmworkers, and to family farmers in the Midwest pickle industry if the South remains unorganized. Corporations will continue to profit from farmworkers' miserable conditions and sub-poverty wages, and continue to take advantage of family farmers as well.

The only way out is for farmworkers to organize, gain the power needed to make change, and work in common cause with the farmers. FLOC's victory in North Carolina will be good news for farmworkers and for workers in other industries fighting their own difficult battles. Clearly, much is at stake.

We need to re-energize the tremendous network of supporters who helped bring the multinational giant, Campbell Soup Co., to the bargaining table in the mid-80's.

We'll add faxes and Email to the old bag of tricks, but the object is still the same: Mt. Olive Pickle Co. officials will learn they can bargain a contract now, or they can bargain a contract after a crippling boycott. But they will bargain a contract!

Your support is vitally important. Help win justice for North Carolina farmworkers by:

  1. Writing Mt. Olive Co. CEO William Bryan POB 609, Mt. Olive, NC 28365. Send us a copy.
  2. Organize a support committee where you live.
  3. For information or to Become a "Friend of FLOC" write to 1221 Broadway, Toledo, OH 43609.

Hasta la Victoria!

  Baldemar Velasquez is president and founder of the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee.  

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