Local News

Pickle Pickers Pressure Packer for Improvements

Posted June 22, 1998

— Farm workers are just some of the people who have to put up with the heat, but one labor group says that's not all they're dealing with. Poor wages, substandard working conditions and no unions are just some of the complaints from immigrant farm workers.

Tuesday, they took their protests to the streets with a march from Wayne County to Raleigh.

Unionists are specifically targeting the Mount Olive pickle company. They're quarrel, they say, is on behalf of laborers who pick the cucumbers used by Mount Olive, rather than full-time employees of the company. Unionists say workers are laboring in intense heat, living in poor housing, and being paid poor wages, but the pickle company says they think this is a publicity stunt to benefit the union more than the workers.

Union advocates say if they can target Mount Olive for a union contract, laborers throughout the South can benefit.

"The only way they're going to be able to improve their wages and conditions is to get organized and have the power to sit down at the bargaining table with the company and make those changes and be able to enforce them later on," said Mike Ferner of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

There were far more students than laborers at the rally. Union advocates say that's because migrant workers can't afford to take a day off.

Mount Olive management, on the other hand, says the real reason may be that the rally is for publicity to push the union into southern states using Mount Olive's name to open the door.

"It's really trying to focus attention on Mount Olive pickle company in order to get more attention for its labor organizing efforts," said Mount Olive President, William Bryan. "Mount Olive is a well-known name in the state, so they put the attention there. Actually less than one percent of the migrant labor hours worked in North Carolina are related to cucumbers which are harvested for sale to Mount Olive pickle company."

The company also wanted to make it clear that it does not employ any of those laborers itself. The cucumbers pass through many hands between the fields and the packers.

The march to Raleigh in intense heat is expected to take about two days. Marchers hope to meet with legislators once they arrive in the capital.


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