On The Mt. Olive Pickle Boycott By The Farm Labor Organizing Committee
Migrant Farm Worker Conditions In North Carolina And In the United States
In March of 1999, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), a union representing farm workers, announced a boycott of the products of Mt. Olive Pickle Company, a North Carolina based processor of pickles and related cucumber products. To date, the boycott has received the endorsement of over 200 organizations, with the religious community representing a significant number of these endorsements. While the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (NCCC) has not considered endorsement of the boycott, several of its offices and related agencies and organizations have supported this action. The Board of Agricultural Missions formally endorsed the boycott at its annual meeting in May of 1999 and again adopted a resolution reaffirming its support at the 2000 annual meeting. The resolution of the 2000 annual meeting also mandated that a delegation of staff and board visit North Carolina to study the issues. This report is the result of the delegations four-day visit.
The conditions under which migrant farm workers labor continue to be very difficult, unhealthy and dangerous. Already low wages have declined over the past two decades, and health and safety standards are not being enforced resulting in illness and injury due to pesticide poisoning and accidents involving equipment. Grower provided housing is for the most part substandard and sanitary conditions are often below legal requirements, both in the fields and in living quarters. Child labor laws are frequently ignored on many farms. The conditions in North Carolina are not unique and exist in almost every state that host migrant farm workers.
As a group, farm workers are specifically excluded from legal protections afforded other workers in relation to minimum wage, overtime and holiday pay, workmens compensation, health insurance and child labor. The minimal standards and protections offered by federal and state agencies are often not enforced as the regulatory agencies are severely understaffed and under-funded. Farm interest groups that oppose improved standards have a very strong lobby in both the state and federal legislative processes. Because of language barriers, ignorance of their rights, isolation, fear of retaliation and intimidation, farm workers do not protest or file complaints. Migrant farm workers are a very vulnerable though essential- work force. Exclusion from the political process further reduces their ability to influence legislation.
FLOC is seeking to negotiate a contract with the Mt. Olive Pickle Company on behalf of the workers who produce cucumbers used by the company. To date, the Company has refused to negotiate with union representatives. In refusing to negotiate, the CEO of Mt. Olive, William Bryan, maintains that his company does not employ farm workers and should not be held responsible for their working conditions. It is Mr. Bryans position that the decision to negotiate with the union should be up to the suppliers and growers who are independent of Mt. Olive. FLOC is advocating for a three-way contract, involving the processor, growers/suppliers and the union, similar to those negotiated with Campbells Soup and Vlasic Pickles on behalf of farm workers in Michigan and Ohio. FLOC maintains that Mt. Olive exerts considerable influence over its cucumber suppliers and growers and benefits from the system that exploits farm workers and that the company has the power and influence to change conditions.
Over the past five decades, the Governing Board of the NCCC has issued several policy statements and adopted numerous resolutions supporting justice for farm workers. The NCCC has also supported consumer boycotts aimed at improving the conditions of farm workers including the iceberg lettuce boycott, the grape boycott and the boycott of Campbells Soup.
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