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Toledo FLOC leader issues ‘call to action'

Seeks rights for tobacco workers

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    Baldemar Velasquez, center, spoke at the Agricultural Workers Trade Group conference in Myanmar this week in support of protections for tobacco workers.

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    Velasquez

    THE BLADE
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Baldemar Velasquez, center, spoke at the Agricultural Workers Trade Group conference in Myanmar this week in support of protections for tobacco workers.

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Baldemar Velasquez is traveling the globe fighting for fair labor rights for tobacco workers.

The founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, headquartered in Toledo, presented a “call for action” at the Agricultural Workers Trade Group conference in Myanmar this week that seeks to unite tobacco farmers and safeguard their right to unionize and collectively bargain.

Delegates from farm labor associations representing 26 countries from Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia pledged their support at the conference and agreed to take the declaration to the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations’ 27th Congress held this summer in Switzerland.

“This will go to the world congress in August for all of the unions throughout the world that are affiliated to support this document,” Mr. Velasquez said. “So we’re not only uniting the tobacco workers around the world, but we’ll also have the support of the International Union federation.”

Mr. Velasquez has spent the past 50 years advocating for the rights of migrant farmworkers and other agricultural laborers from Ohio to North Carolina in the United States and internationally in South America, Africa, and beyond. He said his travels are strategic, aimed at combating unsafe working conditions, child labor, tenant farming systems, and the exploitation of migrant workers in rural and urban environments.

“Country after country gave slideshows of conditions that shouldn’t be with the amount of wealth that is produced,” Mr. Velasquez said, referring to the AWTG conference. “We don’t object to people making money — and as much money as they want — but that’s got to be tempered by not using child labor, forced labor, and indentured workers in order to create that wealth.”

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Velasquez

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He said the global “call for action” represents a coordinated step toward protecting agricultural workers across the world, and he vowed to take international tobacco companies to task who won’t allow their laborers to organize.

“Each country, with the support of all the organized unions, will trigger an economic pressure on the tobacco companies to make good on freedom of association, the right to represent ourselves,” he said, adding union leaders are laying the groundwork for a global boycott of some tobacco distributors. “This will get their attention.”

The campaign is not only about tobacco, Mr. Velasquez said. Farms who grow tobacco often are diversified with other crops, including cucumbers, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and wine grapes.

Mr. Velasquez said his international efforts in rural farming communities are no different from his work in urban areas in the U.S., including northwest Ohio.

He believes all marginalized workers, including migrant farmers and undocumented immigrants, deserve workplace protections.

“You need an organization — an institution of your own — where you can speak up for yourself,” he said.

FLOC will celebrate its 50th anniversary at it’s annual constitutional convention in September at the Seagate Convention Centre.

Contact Sarah Elms at: selms@theblade.com or 419-724-6103 or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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