Oscar Sanchez, who is the “Respect, Recognition, and Raise!” campaign leader and organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, had earlier met with farm workers who were exploring their options for coping with the after effects of a slow season. Following his meeting, FLOC had filed a request to help the workers.
Sanchez arrived on the farm after dropping several FLOC members at a local food bank to find the North Carolina Growers’ Association representative discussing the fund with the workers in person.
During this meeting, and in front of the farm worker’s employer, the Growers’ rep singled out farm workers who had signed the request, apparently attempting to intimidate them.
When the rep mispronounced one worker’s name, Sanchez intervened to correct him. The conflict precipitated from that, and escalated until the representative walked over and punched Sanchez in the face. Prior to taking the punch, Buzzfeed reports that Sanchez was asking the Rep “What are you going to fix, man? What are you going to fix?”
In a statement on the union’s website, FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez says:
Since the June launch of the “Respect, Recognition, Raise” campaign, hundreds of farm workers have joined the fight for a pathway to union recognition and the right to collectively bargain for better living and work conditions. Many more, faced with intimidation (all too clearly shown in this video), are afraid to speak up where threats, and now violence, go unpunished.
David Flores discusses the background of the campaign in a first-hand report on Labor Notes.
The union has established a petition calling on Reynolds, British American Tobacco, and Phillip Morris International, which purchase most of the North Carolina tobacco under contract with the farms, to “take immediate action to guarantee the safety of farm workers organizing for union and collective bargaining rights.”
Update on this story. Paul Saffle, the grower representative who threw the punch, has now resigned from his position, Here is FLOC’s statement:
July 21, 2014- FLOC applauds the decision of the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) to accept the resignation of Paul Saffle, the NCGA rep who punched FLOC organizer, Oscar Sanchez in plain view of farmworkers and their employer on July 10, 2014. While Saffle’s violent act was unpardonable and his dismissal deserved, it does not go far enough to address Saffle’s aggressive attitude that, for years went unchecked by the NCGA, nor does it address the broader culture of bullying common to agriculture.
FLOC is seeking remedy for the farmworkers involved in the incident, including a meeting between FLOC and the NCGA where a declaration of no retaliation for raising complaints with the employer is made.
Furthermore, FLOC seeks a guarantee that the farmworkers involved in the incident will be recruited to work in 2015, as long as they finish this season’s contract in good standing.
FLOC celebrates the courage of the worker who came forward to FLOC with the video footage of the incident, and denies the outrageous allegation of the NCGA that Oscar Sanchez was recruited by FLOC to instigate a premeditated and staged incident of which he was victim.
Finally, we renew our call to tobacco companies that buy tobacco in the region to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with FLOC that will create measurable standards to guarantee no retaliation and to address the intimidation of farmworkers of which Saffle’s belligerence was an unfortunate, but realistic demonstration. As long as grower representatives, growers, and labor contractors single out farmworkers who make complaints (or in this case, a simple request for food money) farmworkers will continue to be denied their human right to speak up without facing retaliation.