Prompted by concerns about the conditions faced by Tennessee tobacco workers, the farm labor organizing arm of the AFL-CIO is coming to Tennessee later this month and plans a full union membership campaign by next summer, according to The Tennessean.
The goal, said Baldemar Velasquez, president and founder of the AFL-CIO’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee, or FLOC, is to help workers navigate complaints, wage issues and disputes with employers or contractors.
“We want to offer them a helpline,” Velasquez said.
FLOC is targeting four tobacco-growing states, including North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia, to unionize adults and teenage laborers. Organizers signed up more than 1,000 workers in North Carolina this summer but faced “a lot of intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” including one labor union organizer being handcuffed, Velasquez said.
They found poor conditions in the fields and many of the labor camps where workers lived, including “some farms where they treat farm animals better than the workers.”
Velasquez said his group believes pressures from big tobacco corporations are ultimately to blame for poor conditions facing workers.