On Earth As In Heaven

Baldemar Velasquez

A RECENT ONLINE profile referred to farm worker labor union leader Baldemar Velasquez as both "militant" and "genius." It's hard to argue with either of those designations for the 66-year-old founder of the dynamic Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). The Toledo, Ohio-based union has used a David-vs.-Goliath style to bring corporate giants to the collective bargaining table, thereby improving the living and working conditions of perhaps the least powerful worker group in the nation.

Velasquez, an ordained evangelical Christian who received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1989, simply sees FLOC's work as God's work, and his opponents might consider following the wisdom of the Pharisee Gamaliel, who said of the apostles, "I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone ... You might even be found opposing God!"

Velasquez, who founded FLOC in 1967, has yet to lose a battle. A 1967 strike Velasquez led against Ohio tomato growers resulted in two dozen growers signing union contracts. A national FLOC boycott of Campbell's Soup in the 1980s resulted in a three-way collective bargaining agreement that raised wages and improved working conditions for tomato workers. A six-year campaign in North Carolina resulted in another three-way deal between FLOC, cucumber growers, and the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. Today, FLOC is going after another giant, Reynolds American, the second-largest U.S. producer of tobacco products.

While perseverance and cunning strategies are FLOC's organizing hallmarks, Velasquez also brings his deep faith to FLOC's campaigns. He insists on loving his enemy, and on his followers doing the same.

"Everything that we do, everything that we say, and everything that we work around is based on loving your neighbor as yourself—including the grower, including the manufacturer, including the company," Velasquez told Sojourners . "And you learn to hate the sin and love the sinner.

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