Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ron Wilkins Shirley Sherrod: Wilkins Charges Sherrods with Underpaying and Mistreating Black Farmers

Ron Wilkins, now a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, infiltrated Shirley and Charles Sherrod's New Communities, Inc. farm on behalf of a group who was overseeing the farm's work. Wilkins later became an "organizer" for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in which Charles Sherrod is considered a "key civil rights leader. Wilkins says Sherrod "misused" workers, most of whom were only 16 years old and did it on the very lands where her ancestors toiled as slaves.

Shirley Sherrod

Joe R. Hicks, a member of The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives' Project 21 says Shirley Sherrod is alleged by Wilkins to have "presided over the crass exploitation of poor black workers on a southwest Georgia agricultural 'plantation.' Hicks said Wilkins "should know what he's talking about."

According to this bio of Charles Sherrod, he "began the agricultural cooperative known as New Communities, Inc.(NCI). Shirley Sherrod was the NCI store manager during the 1970's. She was a key member of the administrative team, which according to Wilkins "exploited and abused the workforce in the field on the 6,000 acre plantation." Wilkins says the plantation was touted through the '60's and '70's as" a land trust committed to improving the lives of the rural black poor."
Underneath this facade, the young and old worked long hours with few breaks, the pay averaged sixty-seven cents an hour, fieldwork behind equipment spraying pesticides was commonplace and workers expressing dissatisfaction were fired without recourse.
Wilkins claims he made $40 a week ($174 in 2009 dollars) at the time he was fired. His 2010 claims about conditions at the NCI farm and managers' anti-labor behavior are reported in a September 28, 1974 article in the United Farm Workers newspaper El Malcriado -- which specifically cites Charles Sherrod as a manager of the farm.
Wilkins said while he was working at NCI, attempting to "organize NCI workers, he was fired, evicted from a NCI-owned shack, and arrested on bogus charges.

The 1974 article in the United Farm Workers newspaper El Malcriado is a pdf. The following is a partial transcript:

Children Farm Workers Strike Black Co-op: Albany, Georgia (September 28, 1974)
The black eagle flag first flew over the fields of Georgia on August 19th, when 50 Black farm workers, most of them under 16 years of age, walked out on strike at Ne Communities, Inc., a farming cooperative near here.
As the strike enters its fourth week, only management and eight workers are gathering the harvest at this 6,000 acre farm.
The strikers walked out for a living wage and humane working conditions.
Not only must they work behind machines spraying lethal pesticides, but there is no definite pay scale.
Waged paid by New Communities vary from 67 cents to $1.63 per hour, and management pays each worker whatever they please, according to personal preference.
Strikers say they must put in unnecessary overtime, on a half-hour's notice, at ungodly hours because the farm is poorly managed.
The farm's manager, for instance, would accept a large produce order late in the afternoon and then require people to work late into the night so that the order would be filled the next morning.
Management had convinced the workers that they should not expect better pay or hours because the entire cooperative was losing money.
Robert Johnson, one of the employees, finally organized the current strike but as promptly fired.
The day after the strike began, the workers called on the United Farm Workers (UFW) field office in Avon Park, Florida for assistance.
Mack Lyons, Florida field office director and UFW National Executive Board member, met with the strikers in Georgia.
The workers signed UFW authorization cards (cards which name the UFW as the bargaining agent of their choice) and voted to demand a UFW contract with the protections of the union's Coca-Cola contract in Florida.
The union has already won back pay for workers who were not earning the minimum wage, sometimes amounting to as much as $500.
Through several of this Black cooperative's funding organizations are pressuring Charles Sherrod, the farm's manager, to reach a settlement with the strikers, he remains unwilling to negotiate.
With so few scabs left in New Community's fields, the UF's first strike in the southeast area (outside of Florida) may also bring the first of many UFW contracts to these fields that were once harvested by slave labor. End 
Joe Hicks says if these charges are true, Shirley Sherrod "owes an explanation and an apology -- not only to Wilkins but to the other black farm workers she misused." Hicks is currently the host of The Hicks File at PJTV.com and a former executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. If you need background on Shirley Sherrod, her husband and Andrew Breitbart who posted a video of Shirley (she is suing him) that got this ball rolling, begin here, then go here and then here. This CounterPunch article was written by Ron Wilkins, about the Sherrod's on August 2, 2010. Thanks to DaleyGator

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