New FLOC Campaign Brings Justice to N.C. Tobacco Farm Workers

ITUC photo

Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez’s appearance before British American Tobacco’s shareholders meeting in London on Wednesday kicks off a new intensive campaign to win justice and workers’ rights for thousands of farm workers in North Carolina.

Many farm workers who harvest and tend tobacco often live in labor camps with inadequate or nonfunctioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below-poverty wages.

Velasquez says the new initiative “will ensure Reynolds American takes real action to give American farm workers the voice they deserve.”

At the London meeting Velasquez and a number of allies, including the AFL-CIO and the global union movement, will urge British American Tobacco to use its influence as a 42% stakeholder in Reynolds American Inc. (and a major customer) to persuade Reynolds to respect and protect the human and workers’ rights of its migrant tobacco farm workers and to meet international labor standards, including the right to freedom of association and worker representation.

On May 8, several hundred FLOC members and supporters will march and rally outside the Reynolds American’s shareholder meeting in Raleigh, N.C. On that day, more than 50 FLOC supporters, including the NAACP and other civil rights and faith leaders will question Reynolds American CEO Daniel Delen about what FLOC says is his failure to guarantee freedom of association.

This summer, FLOC organizers and members will reach out to the estimated 5,000 North Carolina farm workers in the tobacco industry and help them gain a voice on the job. The “Respect, Recognition, Raise!” campaign will highlight farm worker demands for dignified working conditions and adequate housing, recognition of the right to join a union and negotiate with their employer for fair terms and the raising of wages to an equal and fair wage for all workers.

In late July, two of the 41 members of the British Parliament who have supported the fight for farm worker justice, will join Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and FLOC leaders in tour of the tobacco labor camps.

Click here and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to British American Tobacco Chairman Richard Burrows asking him to urge Reynolds to guarantee the human right to freedom of association and worker representation on its contract farms by signing an agreement with FLOC.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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How ALEC and the Koch Brothers Could Get a Major Ally Elected to the U.S. Senate


Thom Tillis, Speaker of the North Carolina House and front runner for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has deep ties to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. In the heated primary leading up to the May 6 election, those connections are paying off.

Since he took the role of Speaker in 2013, Tillis has helped pass a raft of corporate-friendly legislation. Many of these bills were based on ALEC models:

In 2013, after Republicans gained control of the North Carolina legislature and governor’s mansion for the first time since 1870, an array of right-wing legislation reflecting ALEC templates swept through the legislature. Both the Raleigh News-Observer and CMD found dozens of ALEC bills introduced in 2013, including measures that promote voter suppression, union busting, public funding of private schools, and the repeal of clean energy laws.

The onslaught of ALEC-influenced legislation in 2013 helped give rise to North Carolina’s “Moral Mondays” movement.

Tillis himself is not only an ALEC member legislator. He’s a member of the ALEC board of directors, a former member of ALEC’s International Relations Task Force, and received ALEC’s “Legislator of the Year” award in 2011.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the group founded and funded by billionaire David Koch, has already spent a whopping $7 million on TV ads attacking Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. AFP’s ties to ALEC run deep:

AFP has long been a member of ALEC, and both David and Charles Koch have made personal loans to ALEC and funded the group through their foundations. Additionally, a Koch Industries lobbyist sits on the national board of ALEC — along with Tillis.

Art Pope, a North Carolina mega-donor who funds two state-based right-wing think tanks (both of which have been members of ALEC) also reportedly is supporting Tillis’ candidacy. Not coincidentally, Pope serves on the board of AFP.

As we’ve written before, ALEC disrupts democracy not just because of the policies they promote. By writing corporate friendly bills while also funding and promoting the campaigns of politicians who support those bills, they essentially turn legislators into delivery systems – not public servants. But in supporting Tillis and attacking his would-be opponent to the tune of millions, Pope and the Kochs are showing Tillis’ other legislative colleagues that they could benefit by toeing the ALEC line.

Photo via ncdot on Flickr

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In Congress, Immigration On The Backburner. In North Carolina, Not So Much.


Here’s the truth: House Speaker John Boehner could single-handedly take steps to fix our nation’s broken immigration reform.

A bill passed by a wide bipartisan majority in the Senate, S. 744, has been sitting around since the summer. It contains a clear path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented men, women, and children, many of whom are exploited by employers who take advantage of their fears of coming out of the shadows.

While almost no one considers this bill “perfect,” many Republicans and Democrats in the often contentious House are supportive of the bill. If Speaker Boehner brought S. 744 to the floor for a vote, it would probably pass with bipartisan support.

But he refuses to do so.

In February, when asked about the status of the immigration bill, Boehner kicked the can down the road:

“The American people, including many of our members, don’t trust that the reform we’re talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be…”


“Listen, there’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

In other words, until after the 2014 election, in which Boehner hopes his party will retain or expand control of the House and take over the Senate as well.

The Speaker is wrong about one thing: the American people want reform, and they don’t want to wait some amorphous time period just because Boehner and some of his colleagues “don’t trust” the federal government (which he works for, and is a leader of) will enforce this or any law. A gigantic majority of Americans, 79 percent say they will be “disappointed” if Congress does not tackle immigration this year.

That majority includes Working America member Theodosian Swain of Greensboro, North Carolina, who wrote this letter to the News & Record. We’ve reprinted it in full:

Congress wastes time as immigrants wait

I am writing in response to the article “Hopes low for immigration reform” (Feb. 7). The GOP stating that it will wait until the elections are over is just another political ploy for Congress to not get anything done. There have been people who have lived in this country for years who have become working members of society. Undocumented immigrants pay more than $200 million in sales tax every year and have basically become members of our community. This is just our political leaders telling us “tough luck” once again on measures that are important to the general public. We have people who want to become American citizens and are willing to work and contribute. Why wouldn’t we let them?

I’d like for people to look at this issue more practically and take in all the ramifications of passing a comprehensive reform bill. I think it’s possible for us to separate our politics from what needs to be done for our community. This is just the right thing to do.

Theodosia Swain

Text TIMEISNOW to 30644 and tell your member of Congress that it’s time to fix our broken immigration system.

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Food Store Worker Fired for Disagreeing with North Carolina Governor While at Work

In yet another example of the powerlessness that individual workers face, a cook has been fired for expressing his disagreement with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s politics.

On Sunday, February 16th, 45-year-old Drew Swope, a cook at the Charlotte-N.C.-based Reid’s Fine Foods, decided to speak his mind when Gov. McCory patronized his workplace. Swope told McCrory, “thanks for nothing” and the governor allegedly became incensed. Shortly after berating Swope the governor and his security reported the incident to the store manager and owner.

The store’s owner argues that Swope wasn’t fired for insulting the Governor, instead he was fired for insulting a customer;  but let’s be honest, would Swope have been fired for his comment had McCrory not been in a position of power? It’s doubtful.

In fact, this isn’t the first time that the governor has flexed his power to push an unfair agenda. In 2013 Gov. McCrory signed a bill severely limiting voting rights of North Carolina residents.  Additionally McCrory declined a $2.3 billion Medicaid expansion, instigating several Moral Monday protests.

“Yet another North Carolinian has lost a job because of the McCrory administration – adding to its record of joblessness-creation. We wonder: Does Gov. McCrory plan to bring the full force of his political office to engage in power plays with every worker he comes across?” says Carolyn Smith, North Carolina State Director at Working America.

With that being said, let’s stop letting inadequate balances of power define how we treat our workers, and instead advocate for accountability and fairness for everyone.

Update: Charlotte Mayor, Pat Cannon has stepped in to help Swope find a new job. According to the News & Observer, Cannon says that he’s not trying to get in the middle of the controversy, instead he’s doing what he can to help one of his constituents find work.

“The mayor of Charlotte, Pat Cannon, just called me and asked me to send him my resume and he’ll see if he can help me find a position,” Swope wrote on his Facebook page.

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100,000 Reasons the Extremists Who Run North Carolina Should Be Very Afraid


When a group equal to one-fifth the population of the state capital shows up to protest your policies, you’re in trouble. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people showed up Saturday at the Moral March on Raleigh, the state capital with some 420,000 residents. The marchers included working families and their allies from around the state and more than 30 other states. A related rally a year ago attracted 15,000 participants. It’s clear that more North Carolinians are becoming upset with the extreme agenda of Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and his allies in the legislature.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and a driving force behind the state’s Moral Monday movement, which spawned the march, said: “The governor and the legislature are trying to say we’re in the middle of a Carolina comeback. We got a team of experts, economists, professors, etc., together, and they said we’re in the middle of a Carolina setback. No way you can spin what’s happening to us.”

MaryBe McMillan, the elected secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, wrote a poem on the march. Below is an excerpt:

Why are union members and workers here, today?
We’re here because:

There’s too much corporate greed
And we have families to feed.
There are so few jobs, no decent wages.
Inequality tops the news pages.

CEOs earn more and more
While the rest of us grow poor.
The bosses want their workers cheap,
Meek and docile like sheep.

They move their companies South,
Hoping we won’t give them any mouth.
Well, imagine their surprise
As they watch the South arise.

The reaction to the right-wing policies pursued by McCrory are opposed by much of the state’s public as well. A poll last week gave him a 37% approval rating.  The General Assembly fared even worse, at 32%. Only 23% of the state’s residents think North Carolina is headed in the right direction.

Barber and the other organizers behind the march and the Moral Monday protests have focused on five goals:

  • Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability.
  • Provide well-funded, quality public education for all.
  • Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state’s communities.
  • Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference.
  • Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.

Learn more about the march and the Moral Monday activities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Moral Mondays Expanded in North Carolina with Feb. 8 ‘Moral March on Raleigh’

On Feb. 8, the Moral Monday movement, which showed massive momentum in 2013, will return with its biggest event yet, the Moral March on Raleigh. While the state of North Carolina has been moving in a more Democratic direction in recent years in presidential elections, with Barack Obama winning the state in 2008 and coming just two percentage points of winning it again in 2012, extremist Republicans have taken control of the governor’s mansion and the state Assembly.

The Moral March on Raleigh will call out North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) and state Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) and their extreme policies, which have included attacks on voting rights, education, the environment, health care and women’s rights. Organizers expect tens of thousands of North Carolinians to stand up for their rights and fight back against these extreme policies on Feb. 8.

The Moral Monday movement was organized by the Rev. William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, which staged protests in Raleigh and throughout the state last year. The events were launched in conjunction with another organization headed by Barber, the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition, and have been supported by more than 150 other organizations. The 13 Moral Monday events in Raleigh in 2013 led to nearly 1,000 arrests for civil disobedience, while events in dozens of other cities around the state helped raise awareness about the strange games afoot in the state capital.

For more details about the March, visit the HKonJ website.

The Moral Monday movement has put forth the People’s Moral Agenda, which includes the following principles and policy goals:

  • Economic sustainability, alleviating poverty and expanding labor rights.
  • Fully funded constitutional education.
  • Health care for all—protecting Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, women’s health and the Affordable Health Care Act.
  • Addressing disparities in the criminal justice system.
  • Protecting/expanding voting rights and civil rights.
  • Environmental justice.
  • Fair and just immigration reform.
  • Equal protection under the law regardless of race, income, gender or sexual orientation.

The Moral Monday movement also has a goal of raising awareness about Art Pope, the extreme financier behind much of the pro-corporate, anti-working family policies that have passed recently in North Carolina. Pope is often referred to as the state’s version of the Koch brothers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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10 Images From The New Moral Monday Movement in Georgia

The Moral Monday movement, which began last year in North Carolina, hasn’t stopped at the border.

This week, the uprising that started as a protest against the reckless, corporate-backed attacks against workers’ rights, women, health care, and education in the North Carolina legislature spread to Georgia. As rain poured down, hundreds of people gathered at the state capitol building in Atlanta to make their voices heard against the agenda of Republican Governor Nathan Deal.

Georgia is one of 24 states where governors and legislators have blocked the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Gov. Deal justified his decision by saying expansion “is not something our state can afford,” even though it would cost the state of Georgia nothing for the first three years.

More likely, Gov. Deal wants to prove his conservative credentials by acting tough toward President Obama and the new health care law. And thanks to his political move, more than 400,000 Georgians don’t have access to affordable health insurance.

Taking a cue from North Carolina, Georgians made Medicaid expansion the issue of their first Moral Monday protest. Protesters placed crosses, stars, and crescents on the steps to represent those who have needlessly died due to lack of affordable coverage. Check out these photos below:

Thanks to @Raiseupfor15, @EmmausHouseATL, @staceyhopkinsga, @blueatldem, @AtlantaJwJ@LouisPartain, @ProseAndThorn@jasonsbmoc for sharing their amazing photos.

What’s next? North Carolina kicks off a new year of advocacy with a Moral March on Raleigh on February 8. To get involved in the movement for working families, text JOBS to 30644.

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Obstruction Loses! American Homeowners Win! The End of the DeMarco Era.

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Sometimes, small changes can have big impacts.

If the debate over the Senate’s parliamentary procedure in the case of presidential nominations made you want to take a long snooze, no one would blame you. But thanks to new Senate rules, a minority of senators can no longer block a presidential appointment for no reason without standing up and saying why.

And thanks to this long-awaited rules change, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has its first new director since the Bush Administration: former North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt.

Democrats have taken advantage of their weakening of filibusters and muscled through the Senate President Barack Obama’s pick to lead a housing regulation agency.

By 57-41 Tuesday, senators confirmed Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Obama nominated the North Carolina Democrat in May but he’s been in limbo ever since. Republicans have said he’s not qualified, while Democrats say the 21-year House veteran has the needed experience.

Until Tuesday, Watt’s nomination was blocked because Democrats needed 60 Senate votes to end a GOP filibuster. But last month, the chamber’s majority Democrats lowered that threshold to a simple majority.

Here’s why this is a big deal for American homeowners:

Since Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t allow a fair vote on a new FHFA Director, we were stuck with Bush’s guy: Ed DeMarco. DeMarco was a longtime opponent of government efforts to help homeowners affected by Wall Street’s brazen fraud and abuse. Specifically, DeMarco opposed the practice of “principal reduction,” encouraging banks to rewrite mortgages for underwater homeowners. Time after time, he rejected proposals from the Obama Administration to lend this kind of assistance to struggling people who had lost their homes or were about to lose their homes.

“I don’t know what DeMarco’s specific legal mandate is,” wrote economist Paul Krugman, “But there is simply no way that it makes sense for an agency director to use his position to block implementation of the president’s economic policy…This guy needs to go.”

DeMarco continued his harmful policies to the very end:

DeMarco was so extreme that he even opposed allowing lenders to sell foreclosed homes back to the previous owners, even if they had been victims of predatory loans and even if they made the best offer to purchase the house. Realizing that Watt would soon be sitting in his seat, DeMarco — on the eve of the vote to confirm his replacement — put into place mortgage fees that punish homeowners in states that have enacted strong protections against foreclosure abuses.

Rarely does one person stand in the way of relief for so many. But DeMarco was that guy. And now he’s gone.

Housing and community groups have high hopes for new Director Watt, a member of Congress who supported the creation of Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and worked to get anti-predatory lending provisions into the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill.

Photo by @CVHaction on Twitter

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Don’t Look Now, But Seems Like 5 Million Americans Are Getting Mad At The Politicians Blocking Their Health Care.

Our country is split down the middle when it comes to Medicaid. Literally.

25 states and the District of Columbia have elected to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. That includes states with both Democrats and Republicans in control.

Unfortunately, politicians in 25 states have actively refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would pay for 100 percent of costs through 2016, and never less than 90 percent after that.

The stubbornness of these politicians is leaving 5 million Americans without access to affordable health insurance.

Luckily, the White House and wide variety of activist groups are pursuing the issue in 2014. In Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Maine, there are signs that next year’s legislative sessions could offer a path to expanding the program in those states.

In addition, enough voters are waking up to the needless cruelty of blocking Medicaid expansion to make it a viable campaign issue. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was elected governor  in purple Virginia in part by promising to make expansion a priority. 200,000 Virginians would be helped by such an action.

Rep. Mike Michaud, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maine, has made an issue out of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s outright refusal to expand Medicaid. “It’s not just good economics; it’s the morally right thing to do,” Michaud writes on his campaign website.

However, the big win would be in Texas, which has the most uninsured of any state in the country. Nearly 2 million Texans would benefit from expansion, but Gov. Rick Perry refuses to take any action on the issue.

More than 16,000 Texans have signed our petition to Gov. Perry to expand Medicaid. Join them.

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Can You Live on $7.25?

As we reflect on the actions all over the country by Walmart associates on Black Friday and consider the fact that people are working harder than ever and are still losing economic ground, we’re reminded that the federal minimum wage is not enough.

In a joint Op-Ed for CNN, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and National Employment Law Project Executive Director Christine Owens remind us that in the past 15 years, all wage increases have gone to the wealthiest 10%.

Trumka and Owens write:

If the minimum wage had just kept pace with inflation since 1968, it would be $10.77 an hour today instead of $7.25. For tipped workers, the rate’s been stuck at a scandalous $2.13 for 20 years.

Congress is considering a proposal, called the Fair Minimum Wage Act, from Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. George Miller of California, supported by President Barack Obama. The act would raise the minimum wage over two years to $10.10 an hour and let it grow with inflation.

The Senate is expected to consider the proposal the week after Thanksgiving.

If the minimum wage had kept up with the growth of workers’ productivity, it would be $18.67. And if it had matched the wage growth of the wealthiest 1%, it would be more than $28.

Read the rest of $7.25 an Hour Is Not a Living Wage.

Click here to call your senators today, asking them to vote “Yes” on a motion to proceed on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.

In case you missed it last week, The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse covered the low-wage retail and service economy and the devastating effects on America’s working families.

Read: On Register’s Other Side, Little to Spend.

Watch the video above of fast-food workers in Greensboro, N.C., holding a surprise revival service at a Church’s Chicken to support the workers and the fight for a fair wage.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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