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UNION CAMPAIGN MET WITH PUNCH

by Jeff Sykes

jeff@yesweekly.com | @jeffreysykes

A video from Harnett County, North Carolina has surfaced in which Farm Labor Organizing Committee representatives claim a growers association 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 the pronunciation of a name, at which time the growers rep marches over and slugs him.

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

Because of poor weather conditions, the legally documented migrant workers had been without pay for several days. FLOC field representative 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 had gone back to the camp to take some of the workers to a food bank and returned to find that Saffle had gathered other workers in front of the farm owner, who can be seen on the video.

“He’s the grower’s rep and his job is to speak with the growers,” Legato said. “The union’s job is to represent the workers. The fact that 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, Sanchez corrected him. After the two exchanged words, Saffle can be seen moving toward Sanchez, punching him in the head, and then maintaining an attack stance for several moments.

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

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

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

NCGA officials announced last week that Saffle resigned as a result of the incident on July 9.

“NCGA is sorry this happened, but we believe that this turned out just like FLOC planned and that Paul and Oscar both carry blame,” the association said in a released statement. “Paul should have called the authorities and had Oscar removed, unfortunately he lost control. Paul is 70 and has lost his job for his lapse in judgment.” !

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