Tobacco Workers Demand Justice at R.J. Reynolds
Members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and the Pilgrimage for Peace and Justice, a coalition of social justice groups, will walk through Winston-Salem, N.C., today to demand fair treatment for tobacco farm workers who suffer low wages and poor working conditions.
For nearly three years, FLOC has asked Susan Ivey, CEO of Reynolds American, the parent of R.J. Reynolds, the nation’s second-largest tobacco company, to meet and work toward ending the abuses that occur in the tobacco fields. To date, Reynolds has refused to even speak with members of FLOC.
Although Reynolds does not directly employ the farm workers on its contract farms, Reynolds sets the terms with its contract growers and profits from the farm workers’ labor.
The nation’s tobacco farm workers live in poverty, and many suffer from nicotine poisoning and exposure to deadly pesticides and harsh conditions in the fields, according to FLOC. In recent years nine field workers have died in North Carolina tobacco fields, most of them due to heat stroke, the union says.
Says FLOC President Baldemar Velásquez:
The fact that farm workers still live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to many work-related illnesses is not only a tragedy but a moral disgrace hidden from the eyes of most Americans. FLOC will campaign until Reynolds Tobacco commits to joining us in addressing this national shame.
In 2008, Velásquez spent a week working as a field laborer at a North Carolina farm to see firsthand the conditions of tobacco workers. Read his column on his experience here. For more information on the Reynolds campaign, click here.
For more than 20 years, the Pilgrimage for Peace and Justice, an organization of some 30-plus faith groups and allies, have sponsored a 100-mile walk through cities in North Carolina in support of social justice issues.