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September 17, 2004 - Landmark Contract Protects Guest Workers

The first contract in the nation's history to protect guest workers was signed yesterday by the North Carolina Growers Association, which represents 1,000 farmers. and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.  The contract covers 8,500 guest workers from Mexico.

At the signing ceremony at a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Mount Olive Pickle Company, the nation's second largest pickle company, announced that it had separately signed a contract with the union,  ending a five-and-a-half-year boycott campaign against the company.

The contracts signal greater legitimacy of the guest worker program as well as address a long, bitter dispute. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee have long accused Mount Olive of hiring cucumber suppliers who accepted mistreatment of workers. The union responded to reports of workers employed by Mount Olive's growers' living in squalid housing with a boycott that was endorsed by the National Council of churches.  Reports included stories of one worker who had died of heat prostration and another of heat prostration or exposure to pesticides.

Only in pockets of the Midwest, where news of the boycott is more salient, has the boycott had an effect on company sales, according to Bill Bryan, Mount Olive's president.  Questions surrounding the boycott had become time-consuming and annoying, Bryan acknowledged.

"We have always said we would be interested in settling the boycott if we could do so with reasonable terms that we felt were appropriate for our company," said Mr. Bryan, who asserted that the boycott was based partly on inaccurate information and unfair accusations.

The contract is unique among union contracts in that it provides for a hiring hall in Mexico for supplying workers.  Additionally, the agreement is the first for farmers in the state, who are historically hostile to unions.

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