News: Justice on a Bun

Farm workers hope middle class will back them

Jun 23, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Mt. Olive pickles, relishes and peppers take up about one-third of the shelf space allotted to canned cucumbers at the Kroger store in Mariemont. Nearby are jars of Kroger brand pickles, followed by pickles and relishes made by Vlasic.

A 16-oz. jar of Mt. Olive's Kosher Dill Strips costs $1.60, while a 16-oz. jar of Vlasic Kosher Dill Spears costs $2.45. Besides the 85-cent price difference, one fact differentiates Vlasic from Mt. Olive pickles. Unionized farm workers pick Vlasic cucumbers, while only a small percentage of Mt. Olive cucumbers come from union farms.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), AFL-CIO, which represents 7,000 farm workers in the Midwest, has led a boycott against Mt. Olive Pickles since 1999. The union wants Mt. Olive to enter into three-way negotiations with farmers and the workers who pick cucumbers in their fields. The goal of organizing the workers is to improve their work conditions and wages.

Mt. Olive, the largest privately owned pickle producer in the country, maintains it doesn't have control over farmer/laborer contracts and that it's up to each farmer to negotiate with FLOC.

But farmers and workers can negotiate only if Mt. Olive becomes a third party, according to Dick Wiesenhahn, leader of the Greater Cincinnati FLOC Support Committee.

"The processors basically control the entire industry from top to bottom," he says. "They dictate what the farmers get, so they dictate what the farm workers receive, even though they claim no responsibility for the virtual slave-like conditions in the United States in 2004"