Last year, after the boycott resolution had been passed, FLOC vice president Justin Flores said: “[Reynolds American] can barely agree on what the committee's name should be, let alone what they're going to do - We've been getting a little further along in the conversation, but 10 years is long enough, and we believe they're not taking us seriously."
Now the Toledo-based union has stepped up the action and is launching a national boycott of all Reynold’s products, including the VUSE electronic cigarette. The boycott kicks off this week with planned demonstrations outside convenience stores in more than sixty American cities.
In Toledo, home to the union, the demonstration begins later today, between 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m., outside a 7-Eleven store at near the University of Toledo’s main campus. Demonstrators “will be demanding a stronger commitment to human rights in general, and especially the labour 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.”
FLOC president Baldemar Velasquez said: “We want to pressure Reynolds into fundamental human rights and labour rights. The vast majority of [tobacco] farms do business with farm labour contractors; they’re known to be very abusive and dishonest.”
Central to the store protests is the demand that they stop carrying VUSE electronic cigarettes. Leaflets are going to be handed out and the union says it will repeat the demonstrations on a monthly basis.
A Reynolds statement said: “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 union’s problem is that the tobacco company is hiding behind North Carolina law. Reynolds claims the law prohibits them from being able to requiring the growers to have a union agreement with FLOC.
FLOC has 20,000 members working on the farms that supply tobacco to Reynolds. The union contends that their members are not allowed to assemble, organise, or issue grievances.
Vaelasquez added: “There’s retaliation if workers complain. These are some of the fundamental things we want to address. I don't know how long this will take. We just boycott until we make something happen. It’s like turning a freight train around in its tracks.”