The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 guaranteed workers the right to organize and bargain collectively without employer retaliation — but it excluded agricultural workers. That means farmworker organizations must use other tactics to organize and bring employers to the bargaining table. Since the time of Cesar Chavez and the celebrated UFW grape boycott in the late 1960s, consumer boycotts have been a critical strategy for farmworkers seeking justice. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) are among the labor organizations doing just this.
The tomato pickers of Florida have used targeted boycotts of fast food restaurants to improve their own working conditions – and eventually to obtain a fair labor code of conduct covering many other growers and their employees. Today all the fast food chains but Wendy’s have agreed to abide by the code. CIW has called for a boycott of Wendy’s until they follow suit. In early March, CIW members did a bus tour to four universities hosting a campus Wendy’s and rallied with student supporters, calling on administrators to “Boot the Braids!” The tour visited University of Florida, UNC-Charlotte, Ohio State, and University of Michigan. UM has announced that it will not renew Wendy’s lease.
Meanwhile, tobacco harvesters in North Carolina organized by FLOC are calling on RJ Reynolds to police its supply chain. FLOC is unique in the farm labor movement, having succeeded in forming a union of guest workers in the Tar Heel state. But many tobacco workers still toil for nonunion growers, for low wages and under unsafe conditions. Much as the fast food chains have the power to demand that their growers adhere to fair labor standards, RJ Reynolds could do this for their tobacco growers. Until they do, FLOC is calling for a boycott of RJR’s VUSE e-cigarettes. On March 28, FLOC members and their supporters rallied outside a regional Circle K headquarters, asking that the convenience store chain pull the offending e-cigarettes from their shelves. Many such actions have been held since.
We ask members and friends of the Catholic Labor Network to remember farmworkers and honor these boycotts.