TOLEDO, Ohio – “Don’t spend a nickel on a Mt. Olive pickle!” shouted the crowd of over 400 people as they marched down Broadway Avenue here. Students, community members, and organized labor gathered to commemorate the four-year anniversary of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s (FLOC) boycott campaign against the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. FLOC has been battling the pickle giant to recognize their union and grant a fair contract with decent wages, and most important, safe working conditions in the fields.
The event was organized, in part, to honor Bernadina and Alfredo Hernandez, the widow and son of Raymundo Hernandez, a Mexican farm worker who came to the United States under the H2A guest worker program. Hernandez was left to die in the fields after suffering from pesticide poisoning, sunstroke, or both.
According to co-workers, Hernandez suffered from vomiting and nausea the day he disappeared and was told to go sit under a tree while the work continued. He never received medical treatment.
Hernandez never made it back to the camp that day. His body was found months later by his coworkers, who went searching for him. The Department of Labor, responsible for the guest worker program, did nothing. His body was finally returned to his family in Mexico when FLOC took up the cause, raising money to send his remains home and to take care of the family.
Hernandez was hired by the North Carolina Growers Association, whose membership includes the majority of Mt. Olive growers
The goal of the boycott is to persuade the Mt. Olive Pickle Company to participate in three-way negotiations between FLOC, Mt. Olive, and the growers to ensure higher wages and better working conditions for the farm workers.
Workers who are already organized by the United Farm Workers in California, as well as those organized by FLOC in the northwest Ohio area, not only receive significantly better wages for their work, but also a much higher level of safety and respect in their living and working conditions.
“You, are on the right side of justice,” Toledo Mayor Jack Ford told the marchers, many of whom were high school students. For these students who came from 13 Toledo area high schools, the day started out with an assembly at Toledo Christian High School featuring a question and answer session with Bernadina Hernandez and addresses by Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, and Baldemar Velazquez, president of FLOC. Ford’s daughter was one of the main student organizers.
Velazquez thanked the crowd for coming out to support the cause of the farm workers. “The boycott will not end until justice is served, until the farm workers get the respect and dignity that all human life deserves,” he said.
Terrence O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union, called on everyone to remember that America is a country made up of immigrants. “We all came from somewhere,” he said. “It is the workers, working immigrants, that make this country so great!” he told the cheering crowd.
The Student Council President of the Christian Schools, Bryce Ell said, “We think the only place inhumane acts can take place are in third world countries, but this is happening right here on our own soil.”
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