The Multinational Monitor

March 15, 1986 - VOLUME 7 - NUMBER 5

C O R P O R A T E   C A P A I G N S   -   W O R K E R S   H O L D   T H E   L I N E

Campell's Boycott Brings Home the Settlement

Workers, Growers and Campbell Strike a Deal

by Ruth Padawer

In a ground-breaking agreement that ended an eight year battle to protect the rights of migrant workers, the Campbell Soup Company, a migrant farmworkers' union, and a group of vegetable growers have signed a unique three-way labor contract covering tomato and cucumber pickers in Ohio and Michigan.

"This is a major breakthrough in labor relations because it pulls in all of the parties involved," said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).

The agreement, signed in mid-February, capped a campaign launched by FLOC in 1978, when over 2000 migrant workers from farms in Putman County, Ohio voted to strike for better wages and working conditions. In addition to sub-minimum wages, the workers were protesting inadequate toilet and shower facilities, the absence of clean drinking water in the fields and camps, and living conditions that forced entire families into one room shacks.

Many of the farms that the workers struck in 1978 sold their produce to the Campbell Company, but FLOC's original strategy ignored the company's role and pressured only individual farmers to come to terms with the workers.

"We didn't realize then that the people we needed to target were the big processors," said Maria Sanchez, FLOC's second vice president.

The following year, the union changed its tactics and decided to focus its activity on the processor.

"We realized that the growers didn't have the resources to offer pickers better living standards," Sanchez said, unless they had the guarantee that the processor would assume some of the cost. Many growers that sold their produce to Campbell feared that unless the company was brought into the agreement, higher vegetable prices would make the growers uncompetitive or drive Campbell out of the Midwest, Sanchez said.

The Campbell Soup Company, however, was anxious to avoid the fray. It argued that since the company did not directly employ the farmworkers, it "should not and will not inject itself into the labor negotiations." The company claimed that it would be "improper" and "presumptuous" for it to interfere on either side during the negotiations. But by this time, FLOC had pinpointed the processors as the crucial link in their campaign since growers were unwilling to negotiate without reassurances that their produce prices would still be attractive to Campbell. In order to bring Campbell to the bargaining table, FLOC called for a national boycott of all Campbell products.

The boycott was endorsed by many Catholic dioceses and other religious groups in the final months of the campaign and ultimately proved key to its success. Campbell spokesperson Scott Rombach said that while company sales and earnings hadn't been affected by the boycott, Campbell's image had suffered. According to Rombach, the pressure by national church leaders was what prompted Campbell to settle.

"We've always had a social conscience," Rombach said, "and the boycott was affecting that image."

The February contracts establish a grievance procedure and guarantee a wage increase for the coming season. Workers will also receive limited medical insurance and one paid holiday. Wages will be increased from an average of $3.95 an hour to a base pay of $4.50 an hour, with another 10 cent increase in the second year of the agreement. Campbell has agreed to absorb the cost of these wage hikes in the price per ton it pays the growers.

Sanchez contends that the farmers who signed the contract gain as much as the workers in the settlement. Under the terms of the contract Campbell has agreed to purchase the produce of tomato growers for three years and to purchase the produce of cucumber growers for four years. In the past, processors decided each year how much produce they were willing to buy from individual farms.

Under the new settlement, Campbell has also agreed to build and pay for an evaporating facility in Ohio that will allow produce to be stored longer and increase the production capacity of the plant. The company will then be able to buy more produce from local growers.

But most importantly, Rombach said, Campbell has assured growers that they "will keep the per ton prices competitive with the costs the farmers will [incur] from increased salaries and benefits."

This novel settlement was mediated by a five person independent group headed by John Dunlop, former Secretary of Labor and now a professor at Harvard University. The committee was formed in May 1985 after the National Council of Churches pressured both FLOC and Campbell to work toward a settlement. The commission will continue to serve as a "private National Labor Relations Board" to see that the settlement is abided by.

Since no federal statutes and few state laws protect agricultural laborers, the recently established provisions are based on a voluntary agreement-not law. But this doesn't necessarily weaken the settlement, said Dunlop, because the same social pressures that brought the three parties to the bargaining table initially, will remain. The commission has also set up study committees with representatives from all three sides to investigate the use of pesticides, and the conditions of housing, childcare, and health care on migrant farms.

Only about 600 pickers of the nearly 3000 who work in Ohio and Michigan for Campbell are covered by the contract, but FLOC is working to reach others in the industry. FLOC organizers hope to help migrant workers in the cucumber fields in northwest Ohio and Michigan next. Farmers in these two states have refused to join the negotiations with FLOC because the union hasn't been formally voted in by the workers

Dud Dauterman, a farmer in that region, belongs to a loose association of 71 growers who are waiting for industry-wide elections to take place. It would be unfair for cucumber growers to enter an agreement with FLOC and Campbell before the workers specifically elect FLOC as their representative, he said. "We're not going to sign our people on to it [the contract with FLOC] until we know our people want it."

Although in a vote by several of Ohio farm workers a considerable majority chose FLOC representation, elections have been difficult to force on many of the farm owners. According to confirmed reports from FLOC, most of the cucumber farmers in Ohio who were petitioned for union elections refused to hold them.

FLOC intends to repeat the three party approach with other processors in the region so that all migrant workers in the region will eventually win the same gains.

The Campbell settlement itself is already starting to put pressure on other large processors: on the same day the Campbell contract settlement was announced, a spokesman for Detroit, Heinz U.S.A., a large vegetable processor and one of FLOC's next targets, said that his company was prepared to talk with the union.

"We consider this an industry-wide issue and believe any solution should be on an industry-wide basis," said Harry Carroll, the General Manager of Labor Relations for Heinz U.S.A., a division of H.J. Heinz. "No one wants to see another boycott."

Velasquez responded to Heinz's assurances with guarded optimism. "I will not be satisfied until the ink has dried on a contract," he said. "I don't believe we will need to boycott Heinz, but how long it will take [to settle] is another question."

Ruth Padawer is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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