FLOC scores win against guest worker exploitation

The H2A guest worker program allows American growers to import guest workers from abroad. The law spells out a lot of rights that these guest workers are due: the sponsoring employer is supposed to provide transportation, housing and meals in addition to the wage promised. However, guest workers are subject to deportation if they displease their sponsor — so as FLOC (the Farm Labor Organizing Committee) often explains, unless there’s a union representing them, they don’t necessarily get what they’ve been promised.

FLOC has been organizing farmworkers at OJ Smith Farms, a North Carolina tobacco grower employing workers recruited by labor contractor Salvador Barajas. Barajas recruits guest workers for several North Carolina farms, and these growers have failed to keep up their end of the bargain. FLOC has been demanding that the Department of Labor crack down on the scofflaw contractor and growers.

First, the good news — DOL finally slapped Barajas with nearly $500,000 in fines for failing to provide meals and transportation for the workers, with more than $200,000 being returned to the workers themselves. And he’s been banned from participating in the H2A program for three years.

Unfortunately, the DOL chose to let the growers go scott-free. Worse, the OJ Smith Farms apparently used the occasion to fire union supporters in an effort to thwart the organizing campaign.

FLOC is calling on tobacco companies that purchase from OJ Smith and the other growers to take action. “Companies like Reynolds American, Alliance One, and Universal Leaf all have standards they claim their growers must comply with but none of them has taken any action to support these brave workers who stepped forward and called out human right abuses in their supply chains,” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez. It’s high time they did.

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