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Mt. Olive Pickle Co. Boycott Ends!
NCC-Supported Boycott of North Carolina-Based Company Ends with Three-Way Agreement
Photo IDs Below
September 16, 2004, Raleigh, N.C. - The five and one-half year boycott of the Mt. Olive Pickle Company - a boycott endorsed by more than 300 organizations including the National Council of Churches USA and two of its member communions - ended today (Sept. 16) with the signing of an agreement to allow some 8,000 agricultural guest workers in North Carolina to unionize.
These “H2A Program” guest workers, who are from all across Mexico, are the first such workers in the history of the United States to win union representation and a contract.
The Mt. Olive Pickle Company is among the United States’ largest pickle producers (2nd or 4th depending on the method of measurement) and holds the largest market share in the Southeastern United States.
Thursday’s historic agreement among the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Mt. Olive Pickle Company and the North Carolina Growers Association will allow these agricultural workers to join FLOC and receive the benefits of union membership. Mt. Olive will increase what it pays for cucumbers and offer a financial incentive for growers to provide workers compensation for farm workers. Among the benefits for workers will be better pay, grievance procedures and even bereavement leave if a close relative dies in another country.
It is the largest union contract in North Carolina’s history, according to FLOC, an AFL-CIO affiliate. The agreement covers more than 1,000 North Carolina farms. A sidebar agreement extends the influence of this agreement as far as Ohio as a pact with the Mt. Olive Pickle Company increases wages to workers and prices to growers by more than 10 percent over the next three years.
FLOC began to research the North Carolina cucumber industry in the early 1990s, and made initial contacts with field workers in 1995 and 1996. FLOC found deplorable conditions, including often-dilapidated housing with overcrowding and poor sanitation.
In many cases, workers weren’t even guaranteed the minimum wage - receiving instead a piece rate at between 55 and 75 cents per 33-pound bucket of cucumbers. Workers were afraid to complain and often worked with serious injuries in order not to be labeled a “trouble maker.”
In 1997, FLOC asked the Mt. Olive Pickle Company to enter a three-party contract (FLOC, Mt. Olive and the growers who employ the field workers and with whom Mt. Olive contracts). Similar agreements already are in place in Ohio and Michigan. But Mt. Olive declined, arguing that it did not employ the workers and therefore were not responsible for the working conditions.
FLOC escalated its efforts to persuade Mt. Olive to negotiate, finally turning to the last resort of calling a consumer boycott of all Mt. Olive Pickle products, beginning March 17, 1999. More than 300 organizations endorsed the campaign, including the AFL-CIO, the Catholic Bishops of Raleigh and of dioceses across the country, the National Council of Churches, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, Black Workers for Justice, the National Farm Worker Ministry, and many other labor unions, churches and community and student organizations. Many grocery stores honored the boycott.
The new contract includes a non-discrimination clause, a three-step grievance procedure, and camp representatives to oversee implementation and protection of workers’ rights. FLOC will have union organizers present in Mexico to enforce the agreement and to assure that workers are not blacklisted for supporting the union and/or complaining about workers’ rights and protections.
National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar attended Thursday’s signing ceremonies. In November 2003, the NCC General Assembly endorsed consumer boycotts of Mt. Olive Pickle Company products and of Taco Bell products and restaurants. The latter boycott continues.
The Rev. Dr. Edgar, a United Methodist minister, hailed the new contract, saying, “The agreement we celebrate today may be viewed by some as a small victory, but it has a big payoff for this good company, its suppliers, and 8,000 guest farm workers whose efforts all contribute to a highly successful business enterprise.
“Beyond that,” the Rev. Dr. Edgar said, “this agreement represents the kind of mutual benefit that we hope will become an example for all of American industry, pointing toward a new era where profits are measured not only in share values, but in human values as well; where owners and workers alike participate fully in the wonderful cycle of investment, hard work, and just reward, and where a true, sustainable partnership for profit and progress is created. Then, and only then, will America's noblest ideals - and indeed the ideals of faith - be fully realized.”
Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, also among boycott supporters, applauded “the commitment of all parties involved in remaining at the table, engaging in the difficult negotiations and ultimately reaching an agreement that guarantees basic rights for thousands of farm workers across North Carolina….
“This agreement, by providing grievance procedures, monitoring committees and other mechanisms to improve housing, health care and wages for farm workers across the state, is an important step toward fulfillment of a faith-filled vision of worker justice,” he said.
“Today’s agreement and the subsequent end of the boycott is not, however, the end of our Board’s engagement on these issues,” Mr. Winkler said. “I look forward to our continued work in monitoring progress on these agreements and our ongoing advocacy, education and outreach to support the just treatment of all workers in accordance with the positions of The United Methodist Church and the teachings of Christ.”
Top Photo -- Signing Ceremony. Bottom Photo -- News Conference. Venue: Community United Church of Christ, Raleigh, N.C. Seated left to right: Baldemar Velasquez, President, Farm Labor Organizing Committee; Stan Eury, Director, North Carolina Growers Association; Bill Bryan, President, Mt. Olive Pickle Company. Standing left to right: Bishop F. Joseph Gossman of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh; Virginia Nesmith, Executive Director, National Farm Worker Ministry; Bob Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches.
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