Symposium: Labor membership increasing

(from The Catalyst, March 4, 1999

Union leadership converged on campus last week; teamsters and teachers urging awareness of the labor movement, while the most immediate appeal for student activism came from migrant farm workers...

Florida AFL-CIO Director Paul Vasquez hoped Thursday to adress problems facing Florida's working families by forming coalitions with institutions holding similar interests, as well as by educating members.

Vasquez, who represents 400,000 workers, outlined the issues, such as the right to organize for better wages and working conditions, paycheck protection, social security, and Medicare. He emphasized the importance of "raising the minimum wage to a liveable wage..."

Fernando Cuevas, Jr., head of the Florida Branch of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) called for students to help FLOC bring its current strike against North Carolina's Mt. Olive to fruition...

Before he joined FLOC, Fernando Cuevas, Sr., the union's national head, said he didn't know enough English to warn his family about the pesticides on fruits.

"36-years-old, [a] migrant farm worker, and I didn't know the realities of this country. I didn't even know my labor rights or my civil rights. It was something strange and unknown to me."

Cuevas, Sr., who spoke on Thursday, still migrates every season with his workers, now as an organizer. He said he has been attempting to get a bill passed in Florida to fix the payment per amount of fruit picked, but lobbyists argue agricultural interests are too powerful.

"They don't realize that a lot of those migrant workers are already becoming residents [in] these areas, and they're registering to vote, too."