Michael Durbin August 8, 2023: A union divided…

A Union Divided by Michael Durbin


“Baldemar Velasquez, founder and president of the nation’s largest farmworker union in the eastern United States, once told a reporter he makes more right decisions than wrong ones. His decision to hold the union’s convention last September in Ohio, where he was re-elected by a wide margin, may turn out to be one of the wrong ones.

Following a US Department of Labor investigation into complaints that the election was undemocratic and violated the union’s constitution, Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, has agreed with the DOL to conduct a new election. This one, to be held before the end of September 2024, will be supervised by the US Secretary of Labor. In return, the DOL agrees to postpone legal proceedings against the union.”


The Virginia Worker August 2023: The Civil War in the Farm Labor Organizing Committee…

Article in The Virginia Worker by SNR and Sal Rojo, August 2023


“On a sweltering hot day early in July, a meeting was held in the back of the Cleopatra Beauty Salon. The space was decked out with “Virginia for Baldemar” banners – Baldemar being the 56-year long union president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). 

FLOC is the only farmworker union operating in the eastern half of the US, pioneering collective bargaining agreements for H-2A Visa migrant workers coming from Mexico. 

The meeting was promoted as a rally to support two Virginia immigrant women FLOC members under attack from nefarious forces within FLOC.”


Nat’l Catholic Reporter 10/20/22: Prolonged leadership dispute…

Article in National Catholic Reporter, October 20, 2022


Prolonged leadership dispute rankles major farm labor union by Patrick O’Neill

“At age 21, Baldemar Velasquez, son of a Mexican family that spent years working in U.S. agriculture, decided to take action to address the deplorable conditions imposed on farmworkers. 

Angered and aggrieved and following in the footsteps of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi, Velasquez founded the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, or FLOC. According to its website, the union “has set international precedents in labor history, including being the first union to negotiate multi-party collective bargaining agreements, and the first to represent H2A international guestworkers under a labor agreement.””


Civil Eats 1/30/23: A Contested Election…

Article in Civil Eats, January 30, 2023

A Contested Election Is Fracturing a Farmworkers’ Union

Baldemar Velasquez has presided over the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the nation’s second-largest farmworker union, for its entire 55-year history. This year, he faced a challenger in a contested election for the first time. Chaos ensued.


JANUARY 30, 2023

Daylight was quickly fading by the time a group of five migrant farmworkers, just returning home from harvesting tobacco, boarded a white passenger van. Soon, everyone was either sleeping or softly chatting as the van moved along stretches of dark roads, passing by sweet potatoes and tobacco fields and the occasional traffic light. Two volunteers took shifts driving the 700 miles from Deep Run, North Carolina to Toledo, Ohio.

It was early September and the height of tobacco season, the most demanding time for one of the most demanding jobs, and it was hard for the farmworkers to take time off. Yet by driving overnight and returning the following day, they managed to miss just one day in their usual six-day work week to vote in their union’s election.


A Contested Election Is Fracturing a Farmworkers’ Union. Civil Eats. January 30, 2023

Enlace Latino Article: FLOC members seek union convention to be held in NC (5/24/22)

Miembros de FLOC piden celebrar convención en Carolina del Norte
La petición firmada por miembros de FLOC argumenta que la solicitud obedece que Carolina del Norte es donde trabaja el 95% de los miembros del sindicato

por WALTER GÓMEZ, Enlace Latino
24 MAYO, 2022

Carolina del Norte, Raleigh – Trabajadores agrícolas solicitaron a Baldemar Velásquez, presidente de Comité de Organización de Trabajadores Agrícolas (FLOC), celebrar la convención constitucional de emergencia en Carolina del Norte.

La petición firmada por más de 250 trabajadores de Estados Unidos y México, miembros de FLOC, argumenta que la solicitud obedece que Carolina del Norte es donde trabaja el 95% de los miembros del sindicato.

«He sido miembro del sindicato durante casi veinte años y nunca he podido asistir a una convención en Ohio porque no puedo conseguir los días libres en el trabajo», dijo Luis Zamora, miembro de FLOC, en un comunicado.

Elección en septiembre

Esta, se llevará a cabo en una Asamblea Constituyentes de los miembros del sindicato.

«En el pasado asistimos a las convenciones de Ohio», mencionó Roberto, miembro de la lista de It’s Our Future.

«En ese momento era un número pequeño de miembros», explicó Roberto.

Por primera vez en 50 años Baldemar Velásquez tendrá una lista opositora para lograr su reelección.

«Entendimos la necesidad de compartir con nuestros hermanos y hermanas de Ohio, que abrieron el camino para nosotros, y les honramos. Vinimos a Ohio en el pasado con grandes gastos personales”, agregó.

Según lo expresado por Roberto, Carolina del Norte representa el 95% de la unión de FLOC.

Acerca de FLOC

FLOC fue fundado en 1967 por Baldemar Velásquez, quien, junto con su padre, comenzó a organizar a los trabajadores agrícolas migrantes en Ohio.

Velásquez, presidente desde entonces, fue pionero en el uso de contratos multipartidistas

El diriginte gramil dirigió FLOC a través de múltiples campañas exitosas en varios estados, incluyendo la firma del primer contrato sindical de trabajadores agrícolas en Carolina del Norte.

El sindicato es importante para el movimiento de los trabajadores agrícolas por ser el primero que representó a los trabajadores invitados H2A bajo un acuerdo laboral.

Justin Flores is Fired: IOF Letter to Supporters (4/25/22)

April 25, 2022

Dear FLOC Supporters & Other Supporters of Farmworkers,

We are very sorry to have to report some difficult news about a beloved farmworker organization, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).

Long-time FLOC staff and leader Justin Flores, after 13 years of dedicated service, was fired by FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez on April 17th because of Justin’s support for the It’s Our Future campaign. It’s Our Future / El Futuro Es Nuestro (IOF) is a new campaign for increased leadership by rank and file FLOC members. Justin’s termination letter was very clear on the rationale: “…President Baldemar Velasquez could no longer trust you to implement his policy vision for FLOC due to your regular and ongoing open support for the candidacy of Leticia Zavala to replace Baldemar as FLOC’s President.”

Justin’s firing comes on the heels of the recent firing of two other staff members, Meliton Hernandez, a 15-year FLOC veteran in Mexico, and Stephen Bartlett, staff for the last 6 years, both of whom had also recently expressed support for the new campaign. FLOC members have expressed concern about recent staff hires that Baldemar has made because none have more than 2 years of organizing experience, they are unfamiliar with standard processes and they are unable to answer even basic questions that workers have. This is especially troubling as workers are now returning to NC as the season starts up.

Sadly, these firings represent a further intensification of President Velasquez’ increasing practice of isolating staff who disagree with him, and point to one of the reasons that, after 55 years of Baldemar’s administration, It’s Our Future is campaigning for new member-centered leadership (Leticia Zavala and two rank-and-file workers, see more here). A union election is set to take place at the FLOC convention in September 2022.

It is likely that Baldemar will describe this leadership challenge as a mere power struggle between himself and dissident staff members. He may portray himself as a victimized leader, and his challengers as unappreciative, unskilled, and unkind staff members who are hungry for power and are spreading false rumors about him. However, we believe this is a distraction from the real issue: workers are trying to take back their union and staff members are facing retaliation for supporting them.

Despite Baldemar’s decades of inspiring FLOC supporters and the whole farmworker justice movement, former staff also report a history of autocratic decision-making, a lack of clear campaign planning, and organizational mismanagement. In fact, many former organizers representing several decades of FLOC campaigns are openly supporting the call for new leadership from It’s Our Future.

Baldemar remains a pioneer of great advancements for farmworker justice, a visionary in his analysis of labor and food supply chains, and a persuasive and charismatic speaker. We all want to continue to honor his legacy. But FLOC’s movement for farmworker justice is not only Baldemar’s movement; it belongs to the workers. We, as farmworker supporters, are now clear that the best way for Baldemar to preserve his legacy is to step aside and allow for the new leadership of It’s Our Future to take FLOC into the next phase of farmworker organizing.

A core committee of around 20 rank-and-file FLOC members meets twice per week to discuss their priorities and to plan out their campaign to advocate for this momentous transition for the union. These workers’ desire for new FLOC leadership has grown stronger over the years. Their commitment has strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have watched their current president become less and less responsive to worker needs and member grievances, as Baldemar has tried to maintain a positive relationship with the growers at any cost.

To be clear, not all FLOC members are openly supportive of It’s Our Future, even those who are losing trust in the current leadership. Some workers are concerned that supporting IOF could lead to retaliation: some fear that Baldemar could influence the NC Growers’ Association to refuse to rehire certain workers; others worry that Baldemar could limit participation of IOF-supporting workers in the upcoming convention and election.

It’s Our Future faces major obstacles, but the campaign is also excited to take on these challenges with the renewed vigor of an energized base. IOF leaders must travel to labor camps all over the state – not on FLOC time-, and communicate with hundreds of workers, to persuade, assuage fears, and build solidarity, if the slate is to have a chance in the election.

Those of us who have decided to support the It’s Our Future campaign have a long history of supporting FLOC and supporting Baldemar. We respect his many contributions to the movement, and we are grateful for his history and his vision. But, we find the recent behavior towards staff unacceptable, especially retaliatory firings. We are ready to support new leadership to ensure the future of this movement, and we hope you will join us.

There will be many opportunities in the coming weeks and months to get involved with this exciting campaign for worker leadership, and we hope you will join by:

  1. Urging all sides to support a free and fair union election – Sign on letter here;
  2. Spreading the word – connect to all social media here;
  3. Volunteering for the campaign – tell us how you want to get involved here; and
  4. Helping us fundraise – http://tinyurl.com/DonateIOF.

It’s Our Future has already raised $5,000 which covered the initial attorney fees. As IOF Supporter Volunteers, we hope to raise an additional $10,000 in individual donations in the next couple of weeks to fund additional legal expenses, mileage and telephone costs to reach labor camps across the state, and printed communication tools like pamphlets, posters, t-shirts.

Please consider this emergency appeal to help workers themselves build a truly democratic union.

Visit http://tinyurl.com/DonateIOF to make a donation, or send a check made out to It’s Our Future,
℅ Susan Alan (Treasurer), 603 Stacy St., Raleigh, NC 27607.

Thank you for your support!

In solidarity,

Susan Alan
Dave Austin
Matthew Emmick
Lori Fernald Khamala
Lariza Garzón
Aaron Jacobson

It’s Our Future Support Committee members

FLOC Supporters Urge Free & Fair Election (4/5/22)

April 5, 2022. FLOC supporters begin sending letters urging a free and fair union election.

To FLOC Board and It’s Our Future Leadership:

I sign this statement to express my interest in the upcoming FLOC convention and election of FLOC Board and officers. I am aware that there will likely be a contested election and two slates on the ballot. I am following the progress of the convention and election and am interested that, first and foremost, the voices of worker-members of FLOC are represented.

I am hopeful that elections will be conducted in a free and fair manner and absent any actions that could interfere with or unduly influence full and legitimate worker-member representation in the election. I understand that a free and fair election requires not only that FLOC constitutional rules and any applicable labor laws are followed, but complete transparency. In a free and fair election there should be no coercion, intimidation or retaliation against union members or FLOC staff for their participation in the election process.

As a loyal supporter of FLOC, I hope that as the leadership of FLOC you will ensure that the upcoming constitutional convention and elections are fully fair and free and that no union-members or staff are retaliated against for their legitimate participation. I support the presence of mediators or election observers to make this a successful election.

Campaign Announcement: New Generation Prepares to Lead Farmworker Fight for Better Working Conditions Amid COVID Concerns (3/17/22)

Dudley, North Carolina, March 17, 2022 – On the 23rd anniversary of the historic Mt Olive Pickle boycott, Former farmworker and union organizer Leticia Zavala today announced her run for the Presidency of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), along with an all union member slate known as the “It’s our Future Campaign.”

Continuing a national trend of labor activism and union members seeking improved working conditions in the face of a Pandemic that exposed how little the Country’s employers value human life, Zavala says: “the Pandemic highlighted how limited farmworker rights are in this country, even under union agreement. We must do better; It’s Our Future is a member-driven movement within FLOC to push for better protections for all.”

Juan, a candidate for the FLOC Board who, along with many coworkers got COVID working in NC’s tobacco and sweet potato fields in 2021 said, “It is a shame that after two years of workers dying from COVID, no real protocol was ever established in NC. This is sad for us as workers.”

Honoring the historic union contract the boycott produced that has benefited thousands of farmworkers in North Carolina, the slate seeks to build off of the lessons from FLOC founder Baldemar Velasquez over the past 55 years and craft a vision for the future that invigorates the movement and seeks improved working conditions in US agriculture.

Lety, as she is affectionately called by FLOC members, has been a fierce advocate for her community on both sides of the US/Mexico border for over 25 years, spending much of that time helping FLOC members win rights under the union’s contract with the North Carolina Grower’s Association.

The Campaign is made up of FLOC members with many years of experience fighting for better work conditions and human dignity in the fields that are seeking to take control of the future of their union.

The slate plans to bring renewed efforts to key issues affecting farmworkers in the US, including improved enforcement of key provisions of the current union contract, expanding new organizing to non-union farms in multiple states, improved health and safety in agricultural worksites, eliminating corruption and kickbacks charged to farmworkers by corrupt supervisors, growers, and Mexican government officials, as well as a stronger voice in the fight for fair immigration policies in the US.

The election is scheduled to take place this September at a Constitutional Assembly of the union membership, place still to be determined. Campaign events with FLOC members and other agricultural workers will occur regularly from April-September throughout NC and interviews and farm visits will be available for media.

For more information about this campaign and how to support it, please contact the campaign spokesperson, current FLOC Vice President*, Justin Flores, tel: 704-577-3480 email: jffloc@gmail.com.

*note that VP Flores does not conduct campaign activity while working in his official capacity as FLOC VP so may not respond immediately to inquiries but will do so before/after work hours and during formal breaks.