After Three Years, Reynolds Agrees to Meet with Tobacco Workers
by James Parks, May 15, 2011
In a major turnaround, officials of Reynolds American, who have refused for three years to meet with representatives of tobacco workers, agreed last week to look into the labor practices in their supply chain and work with other parties, including the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to ensure they are not complicit with human rights violations.
More than 50 FLOC members entered theReynolds American shareholders’ meeting last week in Winston-Salem, N.C., to deliver a report on the horrible conditions in the fields. Nearly 100,000 immigrant tobacco workers in North Carolina are paid sub-minimum wages and are exposed to dangerous conditions in the fields.
The title for this article came from the Mario Solis-Marich show in the interview below.
Listen to AM 760's Mario Solis-Marich interview with Russell Bannan about the GOP's attack on the NLRB
This attack on our workers, this attack in Washington on working people that results in wealth being accelerated to the top, that results in tax cuts going to the rich, that results in energy policy turned over to the oil companies, that results in defense policy turned over to the arms manufacturers, that results in endless war, that results in the National security State, it's all a part of the same thing, and it's up to us to FIGHT BACK!
CONTACTS: FLOC: Briana Connors, 763-229-5970
Oxfam America: Patrick Scully, 617-678-9098
SEVERE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES PERSIST IN NC TOBACCO FIELD,
NEW STUDY BY OXFAM AMERICA & FLOC REVEALS
Manufacturers Urged to Pursue Industry-Wide Solutions
Winston Salem, NC –The men and women who arrive in North Carolina each summer to tend and harvest the state’s economically critical tobacco crop are often repaid for their hard journey and work with subminimum wages, needlessly dangerous conditions in the fields, and inhumane living conditions. These are among the findings released today from a forthcoming, in-depth human rights assessment conducted by Oxfam America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC).That assessment, “A State of Fear: Human rights abuses in North Carolina’s tobacco industry,” will be published in full this summer.
Oxfam and FLOC released their summary of findings, together with recommendations for correcting abuses in the industry, on the eve of the annual shareholders’ meeting of Reynolds American International (RAI). RAI is one of the major tobacco manufacturers whose profits are based on the abusive system they created and control. Those abuses were documented during the last growing season and harvest by researchers who conducted over 100 one-on-one interviews with farm workers, and with growers, tobacco manufacturers and the governmental and nongovernmental agencies mandated to protect and serve the workers’ needs.
“This research reveals an industry that systematically exploits farm workers’ fears of arrest and deportation to deprive them of their basic, internationally recognized human rights,” said Minor Sinclair, Director of Oxfam America’s U. S. Regional Office, which oversaw the adaptation and execution of the international research model used for this study. ”These stunning findings should be a wake-up call to everyone attending the RAI shareholders’ meeting. Do they really want to be a part of system that perpetuates these inhumane conditions? We hope the people who can truly influence RAI will review this meticulously documented, first-hand research and take the suggested actions contained in the report. Nothing less is acceptable,” he said.
Among the findings highlighted in the summary released today are:
• One-fourth of workers reported being paid less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
• Most of the workers interviewed suffer regularly from symptoms of “green tobacco sickness” (GTS) including dizziness, vomiting, weakness, coughing, nosebleeds, and headaches. GTS is caused by excessive absorption of nicotine through the skin and can be prevented by use of gloves and other protective clothing.
• Heat stroke is the leading cause of work-related death among farm workers, and many workers reported a lack of clean water or sufficient breaks to protect themselves from dehydration.
• Nearly all who lived in employer-provided housing described inadequate or non-working showers and toilets, overcrowding, leaky roofs, beds with mattresses that were worn out or missing, insect and rodent infestations, and lacking or inadequate cooking and laundry facilities.
• Growers who were interviewed said that changes in the industry have left them with little or no profit margin and no way to negotiate for better prices that would enable them to offer more to their workers.
The report concludes with these recommendations:
• Manufacturers must ensure respect for international human rights just as strictly as they ensure the quality and quantity of tobacco from their growers.
• Industry leaders should create a council that brings together manufacturers, growers, farm workers, and their chosen representative, allowing all parties to have a voice and creating an effective tool for workers to ensure legal compliance in the workplace.
• Manufacturers should act to ensure stability in the tobacco industry by allowing more grower input in their pricing formulas and by using multiyear contracts, agreed to earlier in the season, giving the growers more time to plan.
As summer approaches, the next cycle is beginning. Hundreds of workers have already arrived at farms across the state to begin preparing and planting the fields. Their numbers will swell to about 100,000 by harvest time. This gives special urgency to efforts to address the problems uncovered by the researchers and to begin implementing their recommendations for resolving them. Although many of the tobacco manufacturers, including RAI, profess support for human rights throughout the tobacco supply chain, those words are not enough.
“Every day of delay is a day when workers will be needlessly sickened because of the lack of safety equipment or of adequate clean drinking water, when workers will continue to be paid illegal sub-minimum wages, when they will have to endure squalid, unsanitary housing, and when instead of being able to speak up to change these conditions they will continue to be silenced by fear,” said FLOC organizer Justin Flores. “This is an emergency that shames the entire tobacco industry and at Reynolds’ shareholder meeting tomorrow we will challenge the company to be a leader in its industry by taking responsibility and taking action to make things right.”
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|Fred Ross (1910 – 1992)|
originally posted on inthesetimes.com
By R. M. Arrieta
The relationship is mutual. Latinos, among the most vulnerable workers, need the protections and benefits provided by unions. Union leadership has to reflect inclusion of minorities.
The new report “Latino Workers in the United States 2011” by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), offers a critical analysis about the state of Latino and undocumented workers. (The report can be downloaded on LCLAA’s website.)
Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce, which is now joining unions is at ‘near record lows.” The report says:
The future of America’s labor movement will be written in Spanish. Over the next twenty years, Latinos and Latinas will lead new fights for new rights all across this country. They will organize and mobilize a new generation of labor activists who will prevail over prejudice, corporate power and political foes. And they will change their communities and our country forever.
Enforcement-only policies have only enhanced that vulnerability to the point that immigrants have become disposable workers. It's a perfect system for exploitation, but we need to ask who is really benefiting from this, because so far everyone wants to blame undocumented workers. Eleven million immigrants living in the U.S. is not a mistake. This is public policy and the corporations and entire sectors of the economy are profiting from this broken system.
The bottom line: Thousands of working-class people, whether immigrants or not, unionized or not, are under attack across the board and they are beginning to understand their common links.
Organized labor has been on the front line defending the most vulnerable and exploited workers. As we celebrate May Day all over the world, this is the time to stand in solidarity with those that are under serious attack in this nation – our immigrant brothers and sisters.The union movement must welcome these workers in a more aggressive way. Furthermore, Latinos and immigrants must embrace the labor movement as a tool for social protection and economic advancement. This is the future of our movement, but more importantly this is the future of a more just and a stronger nation. No one should allow the assault of labor, human or civil rights of any group. It’s just bad political, social and economic policy.