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FLOC to begin national boycott of Reynolds' e-cig product

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Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez.

THE BLADE
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The Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee is launching a national boycott of Reynolds American, Inc.’s VUSE e-cigarette brand, with demonstrations planned this week outside convenience stores in more than 60 cities.

Baldemar Velasquez, FLOC president, told The Blade the local demonstration will be from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Wednesday outside the 7-Eleven convenience store at 2601 W. Bancroft St., just east of the University of Toledo’s main campus.

More than 50 people are expected to picket there. Those and other FLOC demonstrators around the country will be demanding a stronger commitment to human rights in general, and especially the labor conditions placed on field workers employed by North Carolina-based Reynolds American, the U.S. subsidiary of British American Tobacco P.L.C., one of the world’s largest tobacco companies.

They will be asking stores to stop carrying the VUSE product.

“We want to pressure Reynolds into fundamental human rights and labor rights,” he said.

FLOC has had longstanding issues with Reynolds, its affiliated companies, and their labor contractors.

It is taking its fight to the growing e-cigarette market, Mr. Velasquez said.

“They’re known to be very abusive and dishonest,” he said of labor contractors. “The vast majority of [tobacco] farms do business with farm labor contractors.”

John S. Wilson, vice president of corporate sustainability for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said in a prepared statement that the company "shares FLOC’s concern for the health and safety of farm workers," but added that North Carolina law prohibits Reynolds from requiring tobacco growers to enter into a labor union agreement with FLOC.

“R.J. Reynolds has been a leader in promoting better conditions for tobacco farm workers, regardless of union status. We are proud of what has been accomplished and are committed to work with manufacturers, growers, and other parties, including FLOC, to continue finding workable solutions,” the statement said.

Requests for comment were left with the media communications department at 7-Eleven’s corporate headquarters in Dallas.

The initial demonstrations also will target the Circle K, Kangaroo, and Wawa convenience chains, which share a distributor with 7-Eleven, Mr. Velasquez said.

The Circle K off U.S. 25 near Levis Commons, 26480 N. Dixie Hwy., Perrysburg, will be the next local target for a demonstration, although a time and date has not been set, Mr. Velasquez said.

Leaflets will be distributed outside each store identified for picketing on average of about once a month, he said.

Mr. Velasquez contends approximately 20,000 non-unionized farm workers are denied their right to assemble, organize, and issue grievances without fear of retaliation.

“There’s retaliation if workers complain,” he said. “These are some of the fundamental things we want to address.”

He also cited concerns about human trafficking and sexual harassment.

FLOC’s goal is to get Reynolds to sign a memorandum of understanding that it will recognize rights of field workers, provide better working conditions and safety, and punish violations, Mr. Velasquez said.

The labor committee has kept its boycotts against some other industries up for years.

“I don't know how long this will take,” Mr. Vaelasquez said. “We just boycott until we make something happen. It’s like turning a freight train around in its tracks.”

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or on Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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