Mexican workers headed to the fields of North Carolina under the H-2A visa program can now stop by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s office in Monterrey, Mexico, to find out about their newly won rights. Opening the office was the first concrete step in implementing a groundbreaking agreement signed last fall between FLOC and the North Carolina Growers Association. The agreement covers 7,500 Mexican guest workers who cultivate and harvest cucumbers and other crops in North Carolina. This is the first time immigrant farm workers in the U.S. government’s existing H-2A guest worker program have been unionized.

Enforcement of seniority rights and grievances concerning discrimination against those who have spoken up for the union will be a priority in the new office, said FLOC organizer Leticia Zavala. The union will also help arrange overnight housing for workers waiting for the approval of their H-2A visas at the U.S. consulate in Monterrey. Workers pay the consulate a $100 “interview fee” in addition to a $100 visa charge. Also, they typically pay $140 to a “recruiter.” The union will seek to protect workers from being overcharged by recruiters, Zavala said.

In all, 35,000 agriculture laborers work under the H-2A program, but the new FLOC members are the only ones entitled to file complaints through a grievance procedure.

The president of the Toledo, Ohio-based FLOC, Baldemar Velasquez, was joined by California-based United Farm Workers of America President Arturo Rodriguez, March 17, in opening the new office. FLOC and the UFW are chief proponents of the AgJobs bill now in Congress, which would allow undocumented farm workers to earn the right to permanently stay in the U.S. by continuing to work in agriculture, according to a statement by FLOC. Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) reintroduced the bill in the Senate Feb. 10. Last year’s AgJobs measure was co-sponsored by 63 senators, including many Republicans.

Rwood @ pww.org

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