Growers rep punches union organizer in North Carolina

by Jeff Sykes

A video from Harnett County, North Carolina has surfaced inwhich Farm Labor Organizing Committee representatives claim a growersassociation representative punches a union organizer in the face.

The incident occurred July 9 near Erwin. In the video, Paul Saffle, union liaison for the North Carolina Growers Association, can be seen addressing a group of farm workers. A man off screen corrects thepronunciation of a name, at which time the growers rep marches over and slugshim.

According to Jeanine Legato, deputy director of programs forthe FLOC in Raleigh, the incident began when Saffle gathered together workers who had been interested insigning up for an assistance fund and called out the names of workers who hadalready signed up for the fund.

Because of poor weather conditions, the legally documentedmigrant workers had been without pay for several days. FLOC fieldrepresentative Oscar Sanchez had been helping the workers apply for the fund,which is a joint effort by the FLOC and the NC Growers Association. Sanchez hadgone back to the camp to take some of the workers to a food bank and returnedto find that Saffle had gathered other workers in front of the farmowner, who can be seen on the video.

“He’s the grower’s rep and his job is to speak with thegrowers,” Legato said. “The union’s job is to represent the workers. The factthat he was there and circled up the workers with the grower was intimidating.”

Legato said that Sanchez was listening to Saffle name off names and when he mispronounced a name, Sanchezcorrected him. After the two exchanged words, Saffle can be seenmoving toward Sanchez, punching him in the head, and then maintaining an attackstance for several moments.

“The fact that the union liaison for one of the largest growersassociations in North Carolina would resort to violence shows the belligerenceand incivility,” Legato said. “The fact that someone thinks they can do this andget away with it is unacceptable and symptomatic of less overt actions ofviolence that are really the norm in labor camps.”

FLOC began its “Respect, Recognition, Raise!” campaignearlier this summer. The campaign seeks union recognition at migrant workercamps and is the largest movement in recent times.

“This is the biggest sign up campaign for farm workers sinceChavez,” Legato said. “It’s historic for North Carolina and for the south.”