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

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