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Published: Friday, 10/2/2009

FLOC to meet Saturday at SeaGate for convention


With renewed emphasis on immigration reform and an organizing battle in the tobacco fields of the Southeast, members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee will gather tomorrow in downtown Toledo.

About 400 delegates and supporters are expected at SeaGate Convention Centre for the Toledo-based agricultural union's convention, which is held here every three years, officials said.

"Right now, we feel very excited about this tobacco campaign," said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the 40-year-old AFL-CIO labor organization. "It's a struggle long overdue."

FLOC represents about 12,000 migrant farm workers, mostly in

Ohio and North Carolina.

Following a strategy perfected in the tomato fields of northwest Ohio with Campbell Soup Co., FLOC is attempting to unionize up to 20,000 tobacco cutters in the Southeast. It is beginning its campaign on farms that sell to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

About 200 of the workers will be bused to the convention, Mr. Velasquez said.

FLOC, whose members also include workers involved in cucumber-pickle harvests of Ohio and North Carolina, pioneered a strategy that employs church groups and social-service organizations to bring pressure on large corporations to cooperate in unionization of farms from which they buy crops.

Mr. Velasquez, who founded FLOC as a college student in 1967, will seek re-election as president of the organization. Now 62, he said he thinks about retirement, but, "If I were to retire, this is what I would do."

"The fight for farm worker rights to me is like breathing," he added. "It's not even work, it's what you do."

Delegates will consider resolutions involving unionization and immigrant rights, hear from a representative of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and watch performances of Latin music and dance reflecting FLOC's origins among Mexican-American agricultural workers.

Convention participants will march at 4:15 p.m. from the convention center to the Lucas County courthouse downtown to show support for immigrant rights.

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