Local News

'Pickle Pact' Helps To Unionize Farm Workers

Posted September 16, 2004 5:03 a.m. EDT

— The Farm Labor Organizing Committee has been trying to form a union to address concerns of migrant farm workers for more than five years. Members call Thursday's agreement an historic triumph for migrant workers and their families.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee signed a contract with the North Carolina Growers Association that will guarantee migrant farm workers a union-protected grievance process so they can voice concerns about wages, living and working conditions without fear of repercussion.

"Now, with our union, we have the voice in being able to resolve any type of problem," worker Cesar Briones said.

A separate agreement also ends a 5-1/2 year boycott of Mt. Olive products by FLOC and some religious organizations. The company will increase cucumber prices by 10 percent over the next three years. The union will represent more than 8,000 migrant workers.

"It's our hope that this agreement expand and strengthen the H2A program in our state and be the model that others will follow," said Stan Eury, of the N.C. Growers Association.

"One voice is hard to hear. But all the voices together, it makes a big, huge, difference," farm labor union organizer Leticia Zavala said. "That's the only way for us who are immigrant workers, non-English speakers. It's just the only kind of tools that we have."

Mt. Olive chief executive officer Bill Bryan said the boycott caused a minor drop in sales and made public relations tough.

"I'm one pickle packer that's happy to be out of a pickle today. It's a big relief to have the boycott behind us," he said.

The farm labor union will focus on issues pertaining to legal immigrant workers. Local organizers say the contract is the first of its kind in the country. They hope other Grower's Associations in other states will follow its example.