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Photo: Dale Robbins

Baldemar Velásquez

Farmworker Activist

Baldemar Velásquez is an internationally recognized leader in the farmworker and immigrant rights movements. As president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which he co-founded with his father in 1967, Velásquez set international precedents in labor history by unionizing and empowering the most marginalized workers in the country. His long-fought campaigns are inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King.

Born to a family of migrant farmworkers, Velásquez began assisting his parents in the fields picking sugar beets and tomatoes when he was 5 years old. His childhood memories of following the harvest from season to season led him to undertake a life organizing and pursuing social justice for workers still trapped “by their own fate and historical design.”

In 1978, Velásquez organized and led 2,000 FLOC workers on strike against The Campbell Soup Company to demand union recognition and better working conditions for tomato and cucumber pickers. The boycott was the largest agricultural labor action in the history of the Midwest. Eight years later, FLOC made history when it became the first group to use a corporate campaign to win a seat for farm workers at the bargaining table, and signed its first three-way contract with Campbell Soup and its grower associations.

FLOC then expanded its work to the South. After a six-year campaign against Mt. Olive Pickle Company, FLOC won a similar contract covering thousands of farmworkers in North Carolina. His organization also worked on behalf of North Carolina workers who pulled tobacco for the suppliers of RJ Reynolds; the workers not only sought higher wages, but better working conditions and protection from pesticides and nicotine absorbed from handling tobacco plants.

Velásquez’s commitment to justice and human dignity have earned him widespread recognition, including a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship, a seat on the AFL-CIO Executive Council, and honorary doctorates from several universities, including Bowling Green State University, Bluffton University, and the University of Toledo.