Harvesting Union Rights in the Field

Eli Porras Carmona had been coming to work planting and harvesting sweet potatoes in North Carolina for eight years when he got a call from Mexico. His wife needed emergency surgery and he had to return home.

Carmona works under the H-2A program, where thousands of guestworkers are granted temporary permits to work on farms in the US for up to 10 months per year.

Many return year after year — and since guestworkers are tied to one employer, it’s risky to speak out on the job. The employer can easily send you home, or not call you back the next season.

But unlike most guestworkers, many in North Carolina have a say in their working conditions and seniority rights because they belong to a union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

Carmona’s employer assured him he could come back the following year. When the time came, however, he was told his name was not on the list.

A friend advised him to call FLOC, and the union helped Carmona file a grievance and negotiate with his employer. Three weeks later, his name was back on the list. “It’s meant the wellbeing of my family,” says Carmona. “Thanks to the union, I am able to work.”

Pressure From the Top 

Farmworkers are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act and from labor laws in most states, including in North Carolina. So how does FLOC find the leverage to resolve grievances and negotiate contracts with growers, especially when most of its members are immigrant guestworkers?

Through a combination of member organizing and corporate campaigning FLOC has pressured companies at the top of the supply chain, which have brand names you might recognize from the supermarket, to require their suppliers, the growers who run individual farms, to recognize the union.

FLOC, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, had an early win with Campbell’s Soup. A 600-mile march and boycott pushed Campbell’s to recognize union elections and an independent labor relations board. In 1986 FLOC won a contract that covers Campbell’s and its…

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