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This Day in Labor History: September 16, 2004

[ 10 ] September 16, 2016 |

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On September 16, 2004, Mt. Olive Pickles finally came to an agreement with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, ending a lengthy boycott of the company. This groundbreaking farm workers union launched one of the most successful organizing campaigns of the last 25 years in the South and demonstrate the continued vitality of farmworker unions in the present.

When we think about farm labor organizing in the United States, our thoughts almost immediately go to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in California. There is of course a good reason for that. But both before and after the UFW, there has been significant organizing of some of the nation’s most exploited labor forces. In the Midwest and South, one of the leading movements involved in this is the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. FLOC was founded in 1967 by Baldemar Velasquez, the 20 year old son of Mexican migrant farmworkers in the Midwest. FLOC initially sought to organize farmworkers on individual farms, but soon realized the limitations of that strategy because the farmers themselves didn’t hold the ultimate power over wages. The farmers sold their crops to the big food conglomerates. That’s where the power lies in the agricultural world. FLOC soon turned its attention to leveraging what power it could against food corporations. That strategy became full-fledged in 1979, when after a failed strike, it called for a consumer boycott against Campbell Soup. The boycott was of course the preferred tactic of Cesar Chavez (he preferred it to actually organizing farmworkers) and because of the grape boycott’s fame, it made a lot of sense for other farmworker organizing movements to borrow this. In 1987, this boycott was successful. Campbell signed a contract with both the farmers and FLOC to double wages, improve migrant housing, and provide a grievance procedure, which doesn’t sound sexy but is tremendously important for any worker who is too scared to complain about their lives otherwise.

In organizing tomato workers, FLOC also became involved with pickle workers because the integration of the agricultural industry meant many of the companies it became involved with in fighting for tomato workers were also in cucumbers and pickles. Pickle growers relied heavily on sharecropping schemes in order to get around labor law, including child labor and the minimum wage. Given the harvest seasons, many FLOC workers were working tomatoes one week and pickles the next. The expansion made sense. Beginning in 1987, FLOC began engaging in pickle organizing and boycotts. A three-year campaign gave it a victory in the H.J. Heinz fields. In 1991, another campaign won the fields for Dean Foods. The large majority of Midwestern pickles were now picked by FLOC members.

FLOC called the boycott against Mt. Olive on March 17, 1999. The North Carolina pickle company had a different labor force than the farms in FLOC home base of Ohio and Michigan. Those farms tended to be picked by Mexican-American laborers who had been long residents of the U.S. and who lived in Texas and Florida when they weren’t picking. But Mt. Olive hired guestworkers who had very few rights and no permanent status in the U.S. This was part of a longer history of North Carolina farmers searching the world for the most exploitable labor. While some found the paperwork in the guestworker program unwieldy, with African-Americans and then Caribbean guestworkers leaving their fields for better work, Mexican guestworkers became the next exploitable labor force. About 10,000 H-2A guestworkers labored in the North Carolina fields. Mt. Olive of course attempted to avoid any responsibility for the workers, saying that they did not employ these farmworkers so they had no control over the conditions of labor, even though they set the price at which they would buy the pickles.

FLOC was successful with these workers because they became a way for workers to express their own power. For example, a man named Mamerto Chaj Garcia was working for a Mt. Olive contractor. He came down with appendicitis and his boss told him he was drunk. Finally, he took a cab to the hospital where it was removed. Then a few weeks later, Garcia and his eight trailermates were all kicked out of their housing without receiving their pay. They complained to FLOC organizers. 30 FLOC members marched up to the farm and confronted the farmer, who handed over the withheld pay. This was the sort of routine oppression farmworkers faced, and often still do face, and how farmworker unions can help alleviate the worst of their problems, even if they lack a contract.

FLOC used the guestworkers’ status though to their advantage. As those workers moved from farm to farm, they spread the FLOC message. FLOC appealed to guestworkers because it sought to organize around their specific issues. FLOC wanted to set up a grievance procedure for the guestworkers. It wanted to create seniority lists so that workers could be sure they would return when they returned to Mexico. It won these concessions on September 16, 2004, when FLOC, Mount Olive, and the North Carolina Growers’ Association whose members owned the pickle farms. The agreement also covered all farms under the Growers Association, even if they did not grow pickles. This thus covered many tobacco workers as well.

To win this campaign, FLOC built upon the UFW boycotts of the past and made connections with unions, churches, and community groups around the country. It distributed “Pickle Picket Packets” to these groups, helping for instance concerned citizens mobilize their churches to promote the boycott. They especially worked on the Methodist Church because Mt. Olive CEO Bill Bryan was an active Methodist. When the United Methodist Church not only held its worldwide convention in the U.S. but also endorsed the boycott, it was a major moment for this community organizing strategy. The campaigns against the stores that sold Mt. Olive products was somewhat successful as well. Walmart of course didn’t care, but Kroger pulled the products from at least 130 stores in the South.

The contract also created a code of conduct for Mt. Olive contractors, with mandated inspections. Of course, worker abuses are still common on these farms. Grassroots farmworker unions have almost no money or staff, even though FLOC is affiliate with the AFL-CIO. But they chronicle workplace abuses, win stolen wages, and provide a voice for the guestworkers.

Much of this post is borrowed from Ronald L. Mize and Alicia C.S. Swords, Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA and David Dalton, Building National Campaigns: Activists, Alliances, and How Change Happens.

This is the 192nd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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Behind the Scenes at LIU

[ 46 ] September 15, 2016 |

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Read this interview with Long Island University librarian Emily Drabinski for some behind the scenes insight on the horrible attempt by the administration to lockout the faculty and crush the union.

It’s really important to note that the administration locked out the faculty at Long Island University Brooklyn before the faculty had a chance to review and vote on the contract as proposed by the administration.

When we met on Tuesday, September 6 — which seems like a year ago now — we had already lost our health insurance, we had already lost our wages, we had already been locked out of our communication systems at LIU Brooklyn. Longstanding tradition at LIU has been for negotiations to continue up until the final day of the contract, August 31, and then for the faculty to meet and ratify or not ratify the contract on the first day after Labor Day.

They knew that was the plan. I’m the secretary [of the union], I know that I had emailed and we had reserved a room [for continued negotiations]. They knew that was coming and they locked us out before that could happen.
Why do you think they took such measures?

Labor and employer relations at LIU Brooklyn have always been contentious — that is the task of a unionized workforce. We knew that things were going to be difficult.

When I arrived at LIU Brooklyn, there we six unions on campus; right now there are four. This is the president who has been hired to bust the unions, and she’s been successful so far. We knew she would be coming for us next.

But I don’t think any of us anticipated a lockout. It’s unprecedented because the lockout was so disruptive and so harmful to the reputation of the university as well as to the workers who were locked out. I was talking to my partner and asked, “What’s going to happen?” As we got down to the end — and we’ve been bargaining since April — the administration had not been moving, almost at all.

They’ve been meeting with us, they had been sticking within the letter of the law. They clearly know how to go right up to the line of bargaining in good faith, and they just stuck there.

They began advertising for replacement workers in July on Monster.com. Monster.com is I guess where you get your best higher education faculty to replace us. We assumed that was in the event of a strike, which of course we hadn’t and haven’t called.

My guess would be that they have been preparing for the lockout probably since the president arrived.

They told the press that the reason that they locked us out was to prevent a strike. We are a fairly militant union. We go on strike for working conditions, we go on strike for wages. That might have happened in this event — I don’t know, it’s hard to know now what would have happened had they not locked us out.

What they don’t say is that the other option was to negotiate in good faith and bargain a fair contract for the faculty workforce.

Just really amazing and brazen effort by the university president and no doubt the Board of Trustees. This story remains extremely important as if they succeed in busting the faculty union in the future, it sets a horrifying precedent for other schools to follow.

LIU Lockout Over

[ 22 ] September 14, 2016 |

The Long Island University administration has accepted defeat and has ended the unprecedented and horrifying lockout of its faculty.

White Conservative Football Coaches Are Our Greatest Civil Rights Scholars

[ 81 ] September 14, 2016 |

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Above: A man who believed precisely what contemporary white conservatives happen to think on a given day

Only conservative whites truly understand noted conservative Martin Luther King, Jr. The greatest of these civil rights scholars are members of the white football establishment. And in the end, what do poseurs like Taylor Branch or Clayborne Carson have on Dabo Swinney? Dabo decided to use his brilliance to deliver his own hot take on Colin Kaepernick.

However, the Pelham, Alabama, native, went deeper and cited Martin Luther King and the Bible during his passionate reply.

“I hate to see what’s going on in our country,” Swinney told The Post and Courier. “I really do. I think this is a good world. I think this is a great country. It’s just that things get painted with a broad brush in this world these days. There’s more good than bad in this world. With Martin Luther King. I don’t know that there’s ever been a better man or better leader. To me, he changed the world. He changed the world through love in the face of hate. He changed the world through peace in the face of violence. He changed the world through education in the face of ignorance. And he changed the world through Jesus. Boy, that’s politically incorrect. That’s what he did. It’s amazing when we don’t learn from our past how you can repeat your mistakes.”

He pointed out the country has come a long way and cited SEC football examples along the way.

“I think the answer to our problems is exactly what they were for Martin Luther King when he changed the world. Love, peace, education, tolerance of others, Jesus,” Swinney said. “A lot of this things in this world were only a dream for Martin Luther King. Not a one-term, but a two-term African-American president. And this is a terrible country? There are interracial marriages. I go to a church that’s an interracial church. Those were only dreams for Martin Luther King. Black head coaches. Black quarterbacks. Quarterbacks at places like Georgia and Alabama and Clemson. For Martin Luther King, that was just a dream. Black CEOs, NBA owners, you name it. Unbelievable.”

It’s a known, official fact that Martin Luther King lived and died so that black people could be CEOs and NBA owners. And to make sure that people like Colin Kaepernick didn’t disrespect the flag, ‘Merica, or Baby Jesus. He definitely didn’t live and die to stop police violence against African-Americans. But the Big Liberal Establishment means that it’s politically incorrect to tell the truth. Thanks Dabo. Thanks for setting us all straight on what King really thought. And thanks for showing those stupid historians for what they are–politically correct libtards, amiright?

The King Children: Show Me the Money

[ 139 ] September 13, 2016 |

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The children of Martin Luther King care about one thing: money. That’s why the new African-American history museum at the Smithsonian has no important artifacts from King.

When the museum opens Sept. 24, no major artifacts from the civil rights icon will be on display.

“It’s outrageous,” said Clarence Jones, the former King attorney who filed the copyright for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. “This is the Smithsonian. This is not just another party. This is one of the most important institutions now in the 21st century. And this is probably the greatest civil rights leader in the 20th century. I find it shameful and I’m sad.”

Jones doesn’t blame the museum’s curators, instead focusing on the widely known obstacle historians, filmmakers and others have faced for years: King’s children, Bernice, Martin III and Dexter.

For years, the siblings have blocked media outlets from using King’s words or image without paying what some have described as exorbitant licensing fees. The nonprofit foundation that built the monument to King on the Mall, finished in 2011, paid $800,000. The estate also has sued when they think they are not being sufficiently compensated. That included going after King’s close friend Harry Belafonte when the actor and singer wanted to sell letters and other papers given him by King for charity. Belafonte eventually sued the King estate and won the right to bring the items to auction. In 2013, the King estate, as part of a lawsuit, demanded that Andrew Young, another King confidant and the former mayor of Atlanta, be removed from the board of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change after his foundation used material featuring King in a documentary. The case was dismissed.

The children have taken each other to court repeatedly. Bernice and Martin III once sued Dexter. Dexter sued them back. Most recently, Martin and Dexter sued Bernice over who has the authority to sell the Nobel Peace Prize and Bible. Former President Jimmy Carter was brought in to help mediate an agreement. Last month, a judge settled it instead, clearing the way for the brothers to sell the Nobel Prize and Bible.

Sordid. And not new. When I worked at the Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta, which occupies the same land as the King Center, my colleagues were replete with tales of the sheer venal greed of the King children. It’s sad.

America’s Greatest Failure

[ 121 ] September 12, 2016 |

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I still maintain that the United States allowing Canada to exist is the nation’s greatest policy failing. Here’s yet another reason why:

I’ve tried to remember when ketchup chips first came into my life, but it’s a little like trying to remember the first time I wet the bed. I grew up in the 1980s in Canada, a country that takes its wack-job salty snack foods seriously. Few of these are more revered than ketchup chips. For a while in my early teen years you could determine my age from the blood-red rings of ketchup seasoning that permeated deep into my fingers and palms.

This is the point where my American friends usually start retching loudly, as if the thought of ketchup-flavored potato chips is somehow too much for their delicate constitutions—too upsetting for a nation of people who’ll happily down a couple Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme, three pints of Coke, and a family pack of Flamin’ Hot Funyuns as a post-breakfast snack.

Though ketchup chips are pretty much the most American snack food ever invented, by most accounts their origins, along with their fan base, lie north of the border. Canadians, being Canadians, remind Americans of this at every chance. We want ketchup chips to become a part of you like they’re a part of us.

The best ketchup chips are made by Lay’s and sold only in Canada. They’re a masterpiece of MSG-laden zip and crunch. The beauty of Lay’s ketchup chips is that they don’t taste at all like actual ketchup: They taste like ketchup’s component parts, without the wet. You get the slap of vinegar and citric acid, the sweet, synapse-twerking pull of cooked tomatoes and sugar, the crunch of deep-fried potato starch, and all the lip-sticking salt of a Dead Sea skinny dip. Which is to say they’re snack-time solid gold. Most good Canadians can eat a quarter-kilogram bag in a go.

A “quarter-kilogram”? Is this some sort of code for infiltrating our great nation without ketchup chips? Or do they use some sort of weird anachronistic measurement that proves their savage nature? If we simply invade and obliterate Canada, we can provide them freedom, by which of course I mean they will now be eating this:

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Remember 1813!

Forgotten 9/11 Food Workers

[ 11 ] September 12, 2016 |

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Interesting piece about the 9/11 Memorial and it’s laudable attempt to provide a face with every name of the dead. But for the food service workers it’s hard and for some of them, it’s been impossible to find a photo. These people were sometimes immigrants, often poor, and there may just not be any pictures. It’s really a reminder of just how forgotten food service workers are throughout our entire economy, the millions of unseen, low-wage workers providing critical services to us.

1 Way to Help Your Employees Who Are Struggling with Food Insecurity and Hunger

[ 89 ] September 12, 2016 |

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The site Everyday Feminism published the most ridiculous article ever last week. Titled “20 Ways to Help Your Employees Who Are Struggling with Food Insecurity and Hunger,” it does everything but challenge employer power. It has such useful tips as think about whether the employee can afford the expensive meal at the restaurant to don’t judge them by their clothes. It however does not mention the one thing that will actually ensure your employees don’t struggle with food insecurity and hunger. I’m about to go all caps now just so that it’s clear.

PAY THEM MORE MONEY

But no, can’t mention that. Challenging employer power evidently has nothing to do with everyday feminism.

Inequality and the American Dream

[ 19 ] September 12, 2016 |

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You might be asking what I do with my massive amount of free time. Between writing books, commuting 500 miles one way to see my wife, blogging, teaching, watching the Ducks, listening to people drone on about academic assessment, traveling the nation making fun of dead famous Americans while literally standing on top of them, making various commenters uncomfortable by writing about bands they have never heard of, engaging in condiment wars, and buying an endless supply of pleated khakis, I have a lot of extra time.

One of ways I’ve spent those many hours of spare time is co-organizing the 2016 University of Rhode Island Honors Colloquium around the theme of “Inequality and the American Dream.” There’s a course surrounding it which is not of interest to you all. But there’s also a series of 9 speakers through the semester. It’s open to the public. Those of you in southern New England should attend. It’s a great set of speakers on this critical topic. The speakers are:

9/20–Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School at the University of Texas-Austin and frequent MSNBC commenter, talking about immigration and inequality

9/27–Kimberlé Crenshaw, Professor of Law at UCLA and one of the founders of critical race theory, talking about intersectionality, race, and structural inequality.

10/4–Jefferson Cowie, Professor of History at Vanderbilt and author of the new book The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics, placing inequality and labor in a historical perspective

10/11–Deanna Trella and Tim Hilton, professors of Children’s Studies and Social Work at Eastern Washington University, talking about child poverty and homelessness.

10/18–Caroline Fredrickson, President of the American Constitution Society and author of Under the Bus: How Working Women Get Run Over, talking about gender discrimination and inequality.

10/25–Saru Jayaraman, Director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley and founder of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, the grassroots union of restaurant workers, talking about her work on low-wage labor and injustice.

11/1–John Nichols, the writer for The Nation and other progressive publications and a man who has said too many nice things about me over the years, talking about politics and inequality in the Citizens United era.

11/15–Gerry Hudson, Secretary-Treasurer for the Service Employees International Union, talking about the labor movement.

11/29–Jelani Cobb, historian formerly at UConn and now at Columbia and a person well-known for his writing in The New Yorker, speaking on Black Lives Matter and related issues.

The whole thing is going to be great. All events are open to the public. Drop me a line if you have any questions.

Now back to filling up more of my endless free time.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 48

[ 10 ] September 11, 2016 |

This is the grave of Roger Sherman.

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Born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1721, Roger Sherman moved with his family to Connecticut in 1743, where he rapidly rose in the colony’s political scene. He had little formal education but picked up the law in his 30s. He served in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1755-58 and 1760-61. In 1766, he was elected to the General Assembly’s Governor Council, where he remained until 1785. Although not a talkative man, he calm demeanor demanded respect and during the American Revolution, he became one of the new nation’s most important political leaders. He was one of only two people to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. He was on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. At the Constitutional Convention, he was opposed to James Madison and an advocate of protecting the interests of small states like his own. But with the convention deadlocked, Sherman was one of two people to present the compromise that gave the United States its bicameral legislature. He was the second oldest person at the Constitutional Convention, only behind Franklin, so his political career waned soon after. Sherman died in New Haven in 1793 of typhoid fever.

Roger Sherman is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

Happy Nostalgia Day

[ 93 ] September 11, 2016 |

Ari Fleischer, longing for the simpler times of September 11, 2001.

If only another terrorist attack killed a few thousand Americans, we could all come together and use the opportunity to invade a country that had nothing to do with it and bring them freedom. Turning Iran into Iraq is just an opportunity to spread American values!

NFL Week 1 Open Thread

[ 186 ] September 11, 2016 |

Sep 3, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) looks for a receiver during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Meant to get this up earlier. When you are spending the first Sunday of the NFL season writing fellowship applications you won’t get, it’s so easy to forget. Hopefully, none of you witnessed noted civil rights scholar Trent Dilfer this morning talk about how Martin Luther King would never approve of protesting the flag.

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