Food Hero Series: Baldemar Velasquez, Father of Farm Workers

As the son of migrant workers, Baldemar Velasquez grew up in the farm fields. Throughout his childhood, the Velasquez family would travel the U.S. from the Southwest to the Midwest following the harvest season of different crops. Baldemar led his first strike at the age of 12, helping pickers at his summer job get better wages. A decade later, he graduated from Bluffton College where he was mentored by Dr. Lawrence Templin, a noted pacifist and actual friend of Gandhi’s. Velasquez’s parents instilled a passion for social justice in Baldemar and his mentorship from Dr. Templin deeply influenced his approach in seeking rights for farm workers.

In the mid-1960’s, Baldemar, with the help of his father, convinced a small group of migrant farmworkers to band together for their common good and created the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Since then FLOC has grown to include tens of thousands of members and upholds two important principles: farm workers need a voice and all parties must be brought to the table to address industry-wide problems, from multi-national corporations to the workers on the field.

In 1978, Baldemar led the biggest strike in the history of midwestern agriculture - with over 2,000 FLOC workers demanding union recognition and a multi-party bargaining agreement. For another 8 years, Velasquez and FLOC struggled to win justice for farmworkers. In 1983, he led a 600-mile march of 100 farm workers from Toledo, Ohio to Campbell’s headquarters in Camden, New Jersey.  By 1986, FLOC signed three-way contracts with Campbell Soup and its tomato and pickle grower associations and this victory soon extended to Heinz and other major food-processing companies in the Midwest.

The FLOC movement changed the structure of the agriculture industry and gave farm workers an equal voice in the conditions that affect their well-being.  FLOC’s contracts with multi-national corporations changed labor history and have amassed a strong base of supporters. Due to Velasquez’s strong concern for the safety and security of farm workers, conditions of FLOC members have vastly improved over the past four decades. Not only have wages increased, but housing and other conditions have been improved. Baldemar Velasquez’s greatest achievement, though, is that farm workers have been given a direct voice in their conditions and can safeguard their rights.

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