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Toledoans traveling to N.C. for nationwide rally protesting human rights abuses

More than 100 Toledo area residents are heading to Winston-Salem, N.C., on Wednesday to protest human trafficking and human rights abuses of employees who work in the tobacco industry.

The Toledo contingent will join hundreds of other protesters from across the country who are expected to participate in a rally and march at the Reynolds American shareholders meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Thursday, Baldemar Velasquez, president of Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee said. The protest is being organized by Velasquez’s organization and the AFL-CIO.

“We’ve been doing this protest for six years and we’re not going away,” said Mr. Velasquez, who believes protesters are making some progress. “Six years ago Reynolds said they would never talk to FLOC. Now they are talking to us. But, talk is cheap.”

The main goal is to convince the tobacco giant to allow employees to form a union, Mr. Velasquez said. Reynolds and representatives have discussed the issue several times during the past year, but the tobacco company “appears to be dragging their feet,” Mr. Velasquez said.

Mr. Velasquez and critics say that many tobacco farmworkers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets or showers and other substandard conditions. They also suffer from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides.

Reynolds officials have not publicly responded to the charges.

Busloads of protesters from Toledo and Cleveland are scheduled to leave for North Carolina on Wednesday afternoon. Several national, state and local clergy, labor leaders and farm workers are scheduled to speak at the rally.

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