We Are FLOC
FLOC members share their stories of how the union has impacted their job and their lives
The Union runs in the family.It is no secret that many Mexican families migrate and work in the fields of the United Sates to sustain themselves. The Cabrera family is no exception. Albino Cruz Bueno first came to work in the fields of North Carolina in 2004. A few years after that his son, Abel Cruz Cabrera, followed in his footsteps.
Albino, 49, and Abel, 27, are making FLOC membership a tradition in their family--a tradition they take seriously. When Abel arrived in NC for the first time, the first thing he did when he arrived was sign a union card. Their yearly visits have become not only about the struggle to make ends meet at home but also about building something of their own in North Carolina, something that would last beyond the six months that they work here.
Both father and son are active members of FLOC and both attended this year’s Monterrey Leadership Training. Albino comes early each year to work planting strawberries and then hops from camp to camp working with different growers that have work available for him. At each camp he works, he continues to organize, urging others to make complaints when the contract is not being followed and talking to workers about what FLOC does to defend their rights. “I know that as workers, we don’t have to be afraid to make complaints, we have a union and a contract to protect us.” In the 2013 season Albino was instrumental in helping solve housing grievances in a camp where workers had to wash their clothes on a stone outside their living quarters.
Abel attended all FLOC gatherings this year, including the Moral Monday protests that were happening in Raleigh throughout the summer. “It was amazing because there were people from other unions, it was good to see that people are getting organized and motivating to see that as a worker I am part of something bigger.” After attending, he kept his co-workers informed and excited about FLOC. The effects of his organizing were apparent when the workers from his camp were leaving for Mexico. “Next year, we’re signing up more people” one of them said.
FLOC’s work benefits non-contract workers as well. “You need to contact FLOC, they will help you,” a friend told Maria* when her grower of six years refused to pay her. While Maria worked on the machine “claseando” tomatoes (separating the good ones from green or rotten ones), her kids ages 11, 13, and 14 were hoeing the fields. After they had finished the school summer program she took them to the fields to help her work. “They were doing three rows back and three forth following the mechanical harvester,” she says proudly. She wanted her kids to get paid as a reward for their hard work and asked the grower if he would contribute. One week later she knew the answer: she was called to the grower’s office and told that she was fired. Not only were her kids not going to receive payment because “they were not on payroll,” according to the office manager, but she was not going to get paid for the previous week. “Her papers look suspicious,” said the office manager when contacted by the FLOC staff. You might wonder why after six years working for this farm she was now questioned for the first time about her documentation. Although this was not a grower under a collective bargaining agreement with FLOC, we contacted the grower and informed him that although future employment by Maria at this farm was his decision, he needed to pay for work she had already done. By the end of the week , Maria was paid nearly $500 in back wages.
An Hour Worked is an Hour Paid. Rosalinda* experienced for the first time this summer what working under a union contract means. A single mother of three teenagers ages 14, 17 and 18, Rosalinda and her kids had worked for the previous 9 years for a grower in NW Ohio without a collective bargaining agreement. The treatment was OK, she says, although the grower would ask them to leave the farm and to come back as often as his mood would swing, sometimes even four times a year. Wages depended on the grower's mood as well. Sometimes they were paid $350 per week for the four of them, sometimes $200 a week, and sometimes nothing! The grower would tell them they needed to work without pay because they were living in a trailer on the farm. Payment was in cash, no taxes or contributions whatsoever. And did you notice how old the kids were 9 years ago? This summer her fate changed. She moved to a farm under contract with FLOC. “It was a good season," she says. “We made good money during the harvest but this time we were paid for pre-harvest work as well, and above the minimum wage." The caring of the cucumber plant before the harvest –what is known as pre-harvest work- was done for free before FLOC won the first union contracts and remains this way in most non-contract farms. With the Union, says Rosalinda amazed by the change, “an hour worked is an hour paid."