Sept. 17, 2004
By Bill Norton*
RALEIGH, N.C. (UMNS) -
The boycott of Mt. Olive Pickle Co. by the Farm Labor Organizing
Committee-an action supported by the United Methodist Church-has ended
with the signing of two agreements Sept. 16.
|A UMNS photo by Bill Norton
five-year boycott of Mt. Olive Pickle Co. by farm workers and social
action agencies ended with the signing of two agreements Sept. 16.
United Methodist Church joined the boycott last spring following action
by its top lawmaking body, the 2004 General Conference. The boycott
called for collective bargaining to improve working conditions for farm
workers in North Carolina.
thinking is we joined the FLOC boycott, and since it is over, then the
church’s boycott of Mt. Olive has ended," said Jim Winkler, top staff
executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the
denomination’s social action agency.
Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the North Carolina Growers
Association signed a collective bargaining agreement that covers an
estimated 8,500 federal H-2A guest workers from Mexico and other Latin
American countries who work on about 1,000 farms. It does not cover
workers who may be in the state illegally.
a separate agreement with the union to settle the boycott, Mt. Olive
agreed to increase payments for cucumbers in North Carolina and Ohio by
2.25 percent annually for the next three years, to provide a 3 percent
annual supplement to growers providing workers’ compensation insurance
coverage, and to expand its code of conduct for North Carolina suppliers
Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, an affiliate of the
AFL-CIO, is a labor union representing migrant farm workers. The North
Carolina Growers Association’s members recruit workers under the federal
H-2A program. Mt. Olive, a privately held corporation, has the
second-best selling brand of pickles in the United States.
The union contract is believed to be the first in North Carolina agriculture and for an H-2A employer.
is a win-win for all parties," said Baldemar Velasquez, union
president. "It is an historic triumph for migrant farm workers and their
families on over 1,000 farms throughout the state of North Carolina,
providing workers with a union-protected grievance process, allowing
them to address wage/hour abuses, substandard housing conditions, unfair
hiring practices and other abuses within the H-2A program."
Eury, director of the growers association, said the agreement was the
"most progressive agricultural worker/employer accord in the nation."
answering a question about why his group signed the document, he said
the public often did not understand the difference between the treatment
of H-2A foreign guest workers supplied through the growers association
and undocumented workers who are under the control of unscrupulous farm
the agreement, workers are not granted the right to strike. They do not
automatically get higher wages from these agreements, unless they pick
cucumbers for farmers supplying products to Mt. Olive.
initiated discussions with the union because it saw an opportunity to
strengthen its H-2A program," said Lynn Williams, spokesperson for Mt.
the past, Mt. Olive has been unable to resolve the boycott with FLOC
because we believe collective bargaining should be a process between
employers and employees. NCGA’s decision as an employer to negotiate
with FLOC created an opportunity for us to resolve the boycott,"
am one pickle packer who is glad to be out of a pickle," said Bill
Bryan, president of Mt. Olive. "It’s a big relief to have the boycott
behind us so our full attention can be focused on packing quality
the agreements were signed, the Rev. Bob Edgar, top staff executive of
the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA-which was also
boycotting Mt. Olive-placed $20 in front of Bryan. "Let me be the first
to purchase a jar of Mt. Olive pickles for myself and one for my
colleague Jim Winkler at Church and Society," said Edgar, a United
the time the boycott of Mt. Olive began in 1999 until it ended Sept.
16, the company said it took steps to address farm worker issues, such
as creating a code of conduct and providing education and incentives for
good farm employment practices by its suppliers.
worked with the United Methodist Church’s North Carolina Annual
(regional) Conference and United Methodist-related Duke University to
address specific worker concerns. The company has commissioned and is
helping fund the construction of new worker housing.
Board of Church and Society is expected to take a formal vote at its
Oct. 14-17 meeting to officially end its boycott of Mt. Olive.
a member of Mt. Olive (N.C.) United Methodist Church, acknowledged the
presence of United Methodist officials from the annual conference and
the Board of Church and Society. In addition to Winkler, board members
Laura Little and Charles M. Smith from the North Carolina Conference
attended the signing.
Winkler said the board, which worked on the Mt. Olive situation for five years, will monitor progress on the agreements.
*Norton is director of communications for the United Methodist Church’s North Carolina Annual Conference.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.