Give Thanks to Farm Workers for our Food

To sustain us this Thanksgiving – A message from NFWM Executive Director Julie Taylor

So much is attached to this holiday – commercials, traditions, expectations. At the same time, many live with the challenges of loved ones no longer present or economic realities that make even basic food something wished for or a work requirement which means this holiday feels a lot like every other day.  As you pause around a meal, be it feast or something less, think of the farm workers who harvest these foods we eat.  If you gather with friends or family or both or none, give thanks for the hard working hands who picked the fruit and vegetables you eat this day and every day. Give thanks, friends. In the end, that is what this day is about, however overshadowed it is with other things.  Just give thanks, today and every day for food and friends and family and faith and farm workers.

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FLOC Sues North Carolina to Protect Farm Worker Rights

FLOC Vice-President Justin Flores announce filing of the lawsuit at a press conference on November 15th outside the NC Legislature Building.

As we reported to you earlier, in July the North Carolina Legislature passed and Gov. Roy Cooper signed S615, the Farm Act. S615 includes two terrible amendments, added at the last minute, which can only be seen as an assault on FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the gains the union has made organizing workers in NC. The amendments make it illegal for farmers, who have signed union agreements, to deduct dues from union members who want to pay those dues; and it makes it illegal for farm workers to ask growers to sign an agreement with their union as part of settling wage or other legal violations. NFWM immediately filed complaints of conflict of interest with the NC Legislative Ethics Committee against the two main movers of the amendments, both farmers.  After confidential hearings about which NFWM had no knowledge, the Ethics Committee dismissed NFWM’s complaints without recourse to challenge the dismissals.

“Politicians that are also growers shouldn’t pass self-serving laws simply because they don’t want their workers to unionize,” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez. “With the continuation of Jim Crow-era laws that aim to stop a now almost entirely Latino workforce from organizing, this is an affront to freedom of association and smacks of racism. Companies like Reynolds American should be embarrassed that growers in their supply chains are attacking the very farmworkers who make their companies’ wealth.”

Now FLOC is fighting back! On November 15th, FLOC and two farm workers filed a federal lawsuit challenging S615. Along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the North Carolina Justice Center, and the Law Offices of Robert J. Willis, they are arguing that it impedes farm workers’ First Amendment right to participate in unions, and asserts that the law is discriminatory, as more than 90 percent of the state’s agricultural workers are Latino. They are also asking the court to grant preliminary and permanent injunctions, restraining state officials from enforcing the law.

More than 100,000 farmworkers provide labor to North Carolina farms, helping to generate more than $12 billion for the state economy. The vast majority are Latinos and work seasonally, many under temporary H2A visas.

“Farmworkers provide indispensable labor to North Carolina’s economy,” said Kristi Graunke, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC. “In exchange for their sacrifices and hard work, the legislature has repaid them with suppression of their constitutional rights. They deserve fair compensation, humane working conditions, and the ability to remedy grievances through collective bargaining. This law swings open the door for worker abuse on every farm across the state.”

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A Precious Gift from a Farm Worker

Dr. Charles Kyle, formerly on the board of the Illinois Farm Worker Ministry and at one time a representative from the Association of Chicago Priests to the National Farm Worker Ministry Board, shares a reflection on his friend Cesar E. Chavez that is meant for the faith community. A graduate of Northwest University with a PhD in Sociology, Dr. Kyle is a friend of Olgha Sierra Sandman, Baldemar Velasquez and Dolores Huerta.

 

by Dr. Charles L. Kyle

For more than twenty years, it was my honor to be a friend of Cesar E. Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, and Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom-our nation’s highest civilian award. I would describe Cesar as someone who was filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Catholics receive at Baptism when the anointing minister admonishes them to be “just like Jesus.”

Cesar and I first met when I was taking lessons in liturgical Spanish and serving as a deacon at Holy Name Cathedral in preparation for priestly ordination. One day in the Fall of 1968, as six Chicago priest classmates and I were gathered at a meeting of the Cardinal’s Committee for the Spanish Speaking on Chicago’s near south side, an energetic and handsome brown-skinned man in his late thirties entered the room unannounced, and after introducing himself, proceeded to thank each of us for our commitment to social justice and for ministering to Latinos.

After we were introduced, Cesar shared with us the hardships faced by migrant farm workers in the fields of California and concluded his presentation by posing the following rhetorical question: “Isn’t it a shame that the people who pick the fruits and vegetables that make the United States the best fed nation in the world have to go to bed hungry and have a life expectancy of 49 years when others can expect to live well into their seventies?” Without skipping a beat, Cesar then grabbed a brown paper bag he was carrying with him, pulled out small red metal buttons bearing the NFWA (National Farm Workers Association) logo and the words”No Grapes” written in black characters and -after we had pinned them on our chests- invited us to join him to stand on a picket line outside a nearby supermarket. Little did I know that afternoon that as I made the simple decision to say “Yes,” that the decision would turn out to be what moral theologians describe as “a fundamental option for good” and it would permanently and dramatically change my life.

Once we were on our way to our destination, Cesar turned to me and said: “Father, I want to let you know that there will be a lot of law enforcement personnel here because I’ve been told by my union friends that I’m considered a “a subversive” by the Police Labor Squad (which would be later identified in a federal court suit as the infamous “Red Squad” -a unit that kept and shared files with the FBI on more than 10,000 Chicagoans labeled as “subversives”). Pausing to reassure me with a warm smile, Cesar went on: “But don’t worry,  because the more squad cars there are, the greater the likelihood we’ll get media coverage. That’s why we timed the demonstration to coincide with the nightly news hour.” Still smiling, Cesar added: “I also want to let you know that Charlie Hayes, president of the Chicago Meat Cutters Union, Hazen Griffen, from the Service Employees International Union, Dr. Jorge Prieto, who heads the Cook County Hospital residents training program, and I plan to get arrested in an act of non-violent resistance to protest what we consider an illegal injunction banning our picketing.”

“Actually,” he surmised, the smile still on his face, “the arrests will help our movement break the news blackout we’ve been experiencing. You see, Father,” he paused, “since the food store chains spend a fortune on media advertising, the newspaper publishers and the broadcast media corporations refuse to cover anything that might endanger those advertising dollars. So by being arrested, we will advance the farm workers cause as the coverage of our arrests help get the word out about who we are, what we are doing and why.”

Cesar’s calm demeanor and ability to see a good outcome coming from a frightening situation had a soothing effect on me. This early experience would be specially comforting fifteen years later, when I received from Cesar documents that the Red Squad had compiled about me for participating in the Farmworkers’ cause. Though I was first shocked reading through the heavily redacted 100-page file, I remember being pleasantly surprised to find out that at least, I had been accurately quoted. For example, one of the documents stated that I had read from the book of the Prophet Isaiah from the 56th Chapter and 6th verse at an inter-faith rally alongside Rev. David Chevrier, from the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ; Rabbi Robert Marx, from Temple Solel; and Rev. Finees Flores, from the Christian Fellowship United Methodist Church. I remembered that the event, a rally, had been billed as “a Thanksgiving Day Prayer Service and Grape Boycott Picket Line” and that it was held in the parking lot of a large supermarket in an area now known as Chicago’s “Boys Town”. The dangerous words of Isaiah that I had read on the occasion, which had been painstakingly taken down by the Red Squad were these: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free.”

As Cesar would later explain, the files had been sent to his headquarters in La Paz in the early 1980s tightly packed in one of the 25 plus boxes filled with “subversive” files on himself, UFWA Co-founder Dolores Huerta, retired  SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina and other staff members and supporters. The United Farm Workers had received the files as part of the discovery process in the successful class action suit that had been filed against the Chicago Police Department for violating the First Amendment rights of the UFW,  the Alliance to End Repression, and the American Civil Liberties Union. To this day, I can not repress a chuckle when I proudly recall that, as a result of that court challenge, the Red Squad was disbanded. But more importantly, my first meeting that Fall afternoon in 1968 with an unassuming man who shared with me the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom, which he so deeply embodied, would become the first in a long series of memories of my friendship with Cesar E.Chavez.

Download a copy of this reflection.

Welcome John Caleb Wise, Duke Divinity School Ministerial Intern

NFWM is pleased to introduce our Academic Year Duke Divinity School Ministerial Intern – John Caleb.  From day one, John Caleb enthusiastically jumped in to learn about NFWM and begin working with staff.  We look forward to learning from him and getting to know him better.

I am a third year Duke Divinity student. I grew up in North East Texas and in Charleston, South Carolina. In 2014 I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies at the College of Charleston and then in 2015 a Masters of Theology and Religion at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. I have a beautiful wife named Emily who I married in the winter of 2013. We now live in Pittsboro, North Carolina where we plan to stay for the next few years. Upon completion of my current Masters of Divinity from Duke this coming Fall, I will pursue candidacy as an Elder in The United Methodist Church. I hope to one day be able to work in either social advocacy or the public outreach of the Church abroad.

Staff at NFWM were particularly interested to learn that I spent a number of years working for a large church in Charleston, South Carolina where I was a successful video producer. I am well versed in filming and editing professional media for public advertising. Therefore, over the course of the next year with NFWM I will be crafting new video media for our organization to be utilized on the upcoming website, in newsletters, and at our public events.

 

 

NFWM & YAYA Support Disaster Relief Efforts

In Florida, both the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF) are working with farm workers on the ground to do flood and storm relief. We are not asking for donations for these efforts to come to NFWM. Instead, we will be contributing the remainder of the balance of our Florida Emergency Disaster Fund to assist farm workers as they try to recuperate from the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma and the crop damage experienced by Florida farmers.

Check out how NFWM helped to provide an emergency response center in Pierson, FL in 2011 as preparation for future natural disaster. Also, here’s how YAYA has been supporting FWAF’s efforts in central FL this month.
Please keep the farm workers in your prayers.
Consider signing the petition to FEMA being organized by the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in solidarity with the Farm Worker Association of Florida (FAWF). Sign here.

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Contact us

National Farm Worker Ministry
P.O. Box 10645
112 Cox Ave., Suite 208
Raleigh, NC 27605
Email us here
919-807-8707 (office)