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Published: Friday, 9/21/2007

FLOC founder sees gains, but also a need for more

Velasquez Velasquez
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Baldemar Velasquez was concerned with basics when he founded the Farm Labor Organizing Committee - decent housing and water in the labor camps; just treatment and wages for migrant farm workers.

Forty years later, Mr. Velasquez is delighted by some of the progress.

"On the other hand, I see the ongoing travesty of conditions across the country to this population of workers, of which America has not had maybe the will to do something seriously about changing," said Mr. Velasquez on the television program Deadline Now.

FLOC has 12,000 members under agreements in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina, he said.

He experienced poor conditions first hand, working the fields with his family. That was the impetus to begin FLOC.

He modeled FLOC on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee formed in the civil rights movement. He realized that the group would need to talk to employers about conditions and wages. But that's what unions did.

Established unions weren't interested.

"So when everybody said no to us, we said, well, we'll just start our own union then," he said. "That's when FLOC became, more of a basis of a union than a civil rights advocacy organization."

He was interviewed by Jack Lessenberry, who is ombudsman of The Blade.

Deadline Now will be broadcast at 8:30 tonight and 2:30 a.m. tomorrow on WGTE-TV, Channel 30.

Mr. Velasquez knows how he'd like to be remembered: "Here's a guy that did a right and good thing for other people. I think that that's a good elixir for life."

Self-centeredness and superficiality have spilled into politics, he said, as in the immigration reform debate, when some spoke "as if we created this nation and we were always here.

"People forget that we took this land from the Indians and the Mexicans in the first place. I think that when you start thinking about others, some of your own problems will start getting resolved," he said.

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