Where Union Has Gone Before | Sojourners

Where Union Has Gone Before

MOUNT OLIVE, N.C.—In the mid-1980s, farm labor organizer Baldemar Velasquez helped bring the Campbell's Soup Company to its knees, essentially forcing the corporate giant to negotiate an unprecedented collective bargaining agreement with farm workers and tomato growers.

On June 26, Velasquez announced plans to organize a national boycott of the North Carolina-based Mt. Olive Pickle Company, the South's largest pickle company.

Founder and president of the Toledo, Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Velasquez announced the boycott plans on the steps of the North Carolina state Capitol at the conclusion of a four-day, 70-mile march from Mount Olive to Raleigh.

Like the Campbell's agreement, Velasquez wants Mt. Olive to enter into an unusual three-way labor deal with growers and farm workers to improve working conditions and increase wages for the mostly Latino labor force that picks millions of cucumbers in fields throughout eastern North Carolina.

Company CEO William Bryan says nothing doing. Mt. Olive Pickle Company has conducted its business union-free since 1926, and it plans to hold that line, he said.

"We don't employ migrant farm workers," Bryan said. "They are employed by independent farmers."

Because of the company's large volume cucumber purchases, Mt. Olive signs contracts with certain growers before seeds are even sown. That policy, says Velasquez, obligates the company to deal with farm workers directly.

An evangelical minister, the charismatic Velasquez conjures up images of CTsar Chßvez and Martin Luther King Jr. with his powerful oratory skills and commitment to nonviolence. In speeches Velasquez usually quotes scripture verbatim and confidently assures supporters that victory is at hand because God is on their side.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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