Interview with Yolanda Veal, September 24, 2010

Material Information

Interview with Yolanda Veal, September 24, 2010
Veal, Yolanda ( Interviewee )
Ellis, Candice ( Interviewer )
Brandon, Mike ( Interviewer )
Mississippi Freedom Project (MFP)
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Oral history interview


Subjects / Keywords:
African Americans ( fast )
Mississippi Delta Freedom Project ( local )
Civil rights movements ( fast )
Labor unions ( fast )
African American packing-house workers ( fast )
Oral histories ( lcgft )
Temporal Coverage:
1984 - 2010
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Mississippi


Veal talks of family heritage of working in the catfish industry, and of becoming a union organizer. People mentioned: Rose Turner. Locations: Indianola, Itta Bena, Mississippi. Organizations include: Catfish Worker's Union and UFCW.

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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz 241 Pugh Hall Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor O ral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, re ligious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer t o both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview t ranscripts available on the UF D igital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to refl ect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.histor or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


MFP 061 Interviewee: Yolanda Veal Interviewer: Candice Ellis and Mike Brandon Date: September 24, 2010 E: All right, and we're rolling. I'm Candice Ellis with Mike Brandon V: Yolanda Veal. E: And we're here on September 24, 2010 at the Catfish Worker's Union. It's probably easiest to start at the beginning, so, if you could, just go over your early life ; family life, where and when you were born, what your parents did. [Laughter] You don't have to say when, if you don't want to. [Laughter] V: I was born February 4, 1984. My mom and father married, like, a year or two before I was born. My mom began work ing at the catfish industry probably in the late [19]80s. My father got into some trouble and he went to jail for a while. My grandmothers and my aunts, they raised me, sent me to school, you know; helped me to grow up to a person that could understand the world. As I grew up, moved back in with my mom; ended up getting pregnant at the age of seventeen, had my first child. Went to college but didn't finish. My first job is Delta Pride, catfish industry. Did that because, at the time and here, you really don 't have a choice once you reach, probably, eighteen. Either you go to school or you get a job here. Here in Indianola well, I'm not going to say Indianola, I'm going to say the Delta most likely it's going to be a catfish job. So, that was my first job. I went back to school; I got my CNAs. I left there and went to Con Agra. When I started working at Con Agra, I was introduced to Rose Turner. Rose Turner offered me a job here with the UFCW of last year. So I have been with them for, what? About a year. I h ave been working with them, and it's a pretty good job. You have your ups and downs, but we're all human, what can you expect? Yeah.


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 2 E: What kind of work do you do here? V: What I do is, I go out into the field, which you talk to people about organizing and union in their workplace. So, what you do is, you try to gather some names of people that work inside that industry and you go to their homes; you find their homes. You find them. I mean, you're running up and down the highway actually looking for thes e people. Once you find them, then you got them, you have a story that you have to tell them, because here, a lot of people are not educated on the union. So we have to sit there. Sometimes, we really don't want to sit there, but we have to sit there and w e have to go over it from the beginning to the top, and we have to listen to their problems and their demands and we try to get them to sign a card; yes if they do, no, if they don't. E: To become a part of the union, or ? V: No, it's not to become part of the union. What we are doing is we're trying to establish a union inside of another catfish company right now. E: Okay. And what is that company? V: It's in Itta Bena, Mississippi. E: Okay. So, this union here is just trying to branch out? V: Yeah, we're trying to branch out. E: Establish solidarity within the Delta? V: Well, the only thing I can say about people here in the Delta is, they have to want it for themselves. You can't say that someone is dirty or this or that because we, as a peo ple, accept it. If that's what we want and that's what someone tell us, and if we don't know no better, than that's all we think is good out there for us.


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 3 So, that's all we're going to do; we're just going to go with what someone has told us. We're not goi ng to try to better ourselves because we don't know what's good out there for us. No one is standing over us, telling us, hey, there's a union out here that can help you guys. You know? So, I'm not going to say it's dirty, but it just is what is here. B: You talked about going door to door. Is there any other strategies that you've used to mobilize the community? V: W ell, we try to get insiders; someone that would give us information on what's going on, and let us know what's happening. We'll try to use t hat or we'll try to phone call you. Me and Shyna, we try not to phone call no one, for the simple fact when I call you, just say if I call you and say, well, I want to come talk to you about a union. If you don't know what a union is, you're going to hang up the phone in my face. Or, if someone had bad talked the union, you're still going to hang the phone up in my face. Then you might tell me, yeah, you can come over here, but when I come, you're not there. So we try not to call anyone. We really just try to get out na mes, find where thes e people are, and meet them before they go in the house before they go to sleep, yeah. And we will work around on you. [Laughter] B: Mississippi is one of the most anti union states in the country and it's been that way fo r quite some time. Have you faced any repression or resistance in the community? V: I mean you just well, you guys are not from here, so, that's every day here. But you have to just do your research and find out what's going on and how can


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 4 you overc ome what you are going through in life. If you're not looking for the research and trying to get the help here in the Delta, in Mississippi, you're not. No one here in Mississippi and I'm just sad to say it blacks, period, do not have really a chance here. African American people here Mississippi, to me, and I am twenty six years old, Mississippi is a place to come home and retire to. This is not a place to where people try to have something, would get something, because every time you try to do it, you got someone turning you around saying, you can't do this, you can't do that. No this, no that. It's just no, no, no to everything. You just take Indianola, we're trying to get sewages did around here. No. Where's all our money going? You have schools and thes e are public schools, and they are here, and the kids don't even have textbooks. But no one knows, no one cares, so that's what happens here. B: What about local politicians? How does the union interact with them? V: I really don't deal with politics and politicians. It's never been a value of mine because I don't believe in men, I believe in God. Politics is just a way to just come in and get richer off the poor to me, so I really have no idea what goes on with the politics. I stay out of the politics be cause I am not the one. I am not the one. Okay. Next one. Yeah, politics. [Laughter] E: When you knock on doors and visit people at their homes, what's the general reception? Are people usually interested, or ? V: [Laughter] No. No, they are not. Because, like I said in the beginning, we are not knowledged around here. We had someone to sign a card and didn't even know what he was sig ning. People here are not then, you have to think about it like


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 5 this: if you work there, if you had worked at D elta Pride and got fired, and you was in the union and you left here and went to another non union catfish place, the first thing you are going to tell these people is, now, don't join that union because their union ain't right when all we are is, you know humans A nd we do mistakes, but you can't fault us for everything that you done at your last job. So you have people that will turn around, they'd slam the doors in our face, you know. Sometimes say nasty things to us and cuss us out real bad. Let the dog s chase us. [Laughter] But that's people, you know. You really can't just say how people will react, but when you knock on that door, you never know what you're going to get. E: Right. V: You never know. B: So there's people in the black community sprea ding misinformation about the union. V: Yeah. B: What kinds of things do they say? V: Whatever come to they mind. The union ain't nothing; they just want to take your money and all this. I mean, whatever comes to their mind. Anything to keep their $7.25 in their pocket, they will tell you. It's just being honest. If they feel like their side, if they got to keep their seven dollars in their check which is really nothing, compared to what we do every day with seven dollars they would rather tell you a who le lot of bunch of lies and excuses so that people that don't know will never


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 6 know. People that do know, they just try to keep it out because they're scared to lose $7.25. B: So it's really a matter of the dues, then. V: It's a matter of the dues. A lot of people are afraid of losing their jobs. When they hear about a union coming, they get thes e scare tactics from the people ; inside management inside of the workplace. They'll say, well, we're going to close this down if you all let this union in here, or we're going to do this or we're going to do that. Then they'll promise you a lot; we're going to give you all some raises. We're going to have a fish fry. We're going to do this. The people feed into it because some people, that's all we have around here. The catfish industry is just growing up every day and they're making millions of dollars and the workers are not making that. So, whatever management tell them, the people believe. Yeah. B: People say that catfish is the new cotton. I've heard that sinc e I've been down here. V: I heard that since I been down I heard that since I been living, too. Catfish is a million dollar franchise. When you go down this highway have you guys ever travelled down the highway here? B: We drove around a lot yesterday. V : You did? What did you see? B: A lot of farms. V: A lot of farms, so it's not only catfish. You have catfish nowadays, you think about it, you have people that's trying to go across seas and get catfish because it's cheaper. But farm raised catfish is a little expensive, but the new cotton? I think


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 7 corn is the new cotton. [Laughter] Catfish is going to make its money because it's high. I mean, you just go in Sunflower Foods Store, you get three little fillets for, like, eight dollars. And that's three l ittle pieces of meat for eight dollars, yeah. So, I don't think it's the new cotton. I think corn is the new cotton because you can get a can or corn here for almost three dollars. E: You mentioned your mother worked in the catfish industry. What kind of stuff did she do? V: My mother, when she first started working at Delta Pride, she worked in the box room. Back in the early [19]80s and early [19]90s, they had to print out well, write out labels. So, that's what she did. She wrote out the labels. I thin k, like, in [19]92, my mom got a supervisor's job. She's been supervisor since, but at the same time, when she was at Delta Pride, they fired her. My mom is the type, she stands up for what she believes in. Although she's a supervisor, she's not going to mistreat anyone. She's going to give everyone a fair chance. So, when they see this kind of person coming in here, that's not what they're wanting. That's not what they're wanting. They want someone to do as they say, and right now. They don't want to give you a fair chance and say, well, okay, today is a good day; I'm going to let you keep your job, you just do better next time. They just want you to do it out front, and my mom is not that type of person. They fired her. She got another supervisor job at B aird I forget the name of it, it was a catfish company. When that company shut down, my mom went to America's Catch She was a supervisor there. At that time, same thing. They're non union. She was helping people to her best, giving people a fair chance an d trying to help people keep


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 8 their job, because you know people have responsibilities; people in management didn't like it. They fired her again. Delta Pride called her back, and so she's been with Delta Pride since, yeah. That's the only job she's ever do ne. She's never worked really hard, no. B: So you mentioned the tactics of the company to try to discourage unionization and the misinformation in the black community that's also discouraging unionization. Do you feel like you're making progress despite all of the resistance? V: No, because people won't let you into their lives that good. I'm just going to be honest. If what's your name again? E: Candice. V: Candice. If Candice was management and me and you worked out there, you probably could believe Candice. Everything she said. Me? If I'm standing up for myself and what I believe in, then, no. But it takes one person with that no: say, no. We don't need this. That would change a whole room. So when you have one no and, especially when they're around a crowd, you won't get anywhere. You won't get anywhere, because people are here; people just believe in what someone tell them and not what they know. We're not going to read. We don't pick up the newspaper. We don't watch the news. We're not knowing what 's going on here. It's a lot of things going on in the Delta right now that not even I know, but it's nothing we can do about it because it's held from us. Coming working with the union, you learn a lot. You learn a whole lot. You have to keep up with, you know, laws and things like that because, when you go out to people


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 9 and you have to talk to them, then people be like, well, what happened with so and so, so and so? You have to like okay, I know what you're talking about. So, no, things, I don't bel ieve they're just leaving in what we're now, you have some people that want change, but then you have a lot of older people and a lot of young people that just really don't know and don't care. They're just fine with a paycheck. B: But you're still trying hard. V: Y eah, I'm going to try. You know? I can't help but to try. If I didn't try, I didn't do anything. But the thing is, you could try so hard that sometimes, when people show you that they really don't care what happens, then what can you do? I mean, God allowed things to happen to us, but we are the reason things hap pen, because we have our own mi n d and we have to do what our mind inspire us to do and that's right or wrong. If I'm working at American Catch I ain't going to lie to you, I have w orked there. I worked there three days. [Laughter] I left Delta Pride. I was making, at the time I was making $5.35. Th a t was night shift. I left there and went to American Catch because they was like, oh, American making so much money. So I go to American Catch ; they make seven dollars and, what? Twenty five cents. But, at the same time, it wasn't worth it. Our money isn't good money. When you have to tell someone you got to go to the bathroom and can you do this? You're like you're in school again, and I' m grown. You know? That's how I felt. I'm grown, you can either believe me or not. I need to use the restroom. You have to write my name down on a list and I mean, I might be down here. I got to wait on all these people to go, so it was a lot of things tha t


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 10 goes on inside that plant that, I believe if I lose the union job, I still won't go back to that place. So, no. Next. E: Can you give other examples of what it was like to work there? Things like that? V: At American Catch ? Wow. Yeah. I hated their com puter system for the simple fact, if I'm cutting my fish, I have a brick. Okay, it's like you have a brick. This is your time card. You have a computer sitting in front of you and you put your brick on this computer so all your information goes into this c omputer; they're going to know how long you stayed in the bathroom, how many fish you're cutting a minute, if you left too much waste on the f ish, if you left a bone in the fish, if you're not cutting fast enough. So, this computer tells everything you're doing. You have people that misuse the system, of course as black people, we're going to always find a way around something. We learn how to block fish, but what you're doing is you're causing harm to the next person. On my second day, I was cutting fish a nd all the fish was just coming to me. Everyone on the line was just standing up, and I'm a grown I was grown. I was fully grown, I was crying. I was crying for the simple fact all the fish was coming to me and everyone was standing up and I couldn't let i t just sit there because I'm on these people's computers. They would know what I'm doing. So, when the supervisor at the time which was my mom come back, she was like, what's wrong? Why are you sitting up here crying? I was like, ain't no one working, my f ingers are hurting, I can't cut this fish this fast. She was like, they done blocked the fish. Now, you take that for example. If they had a union there? Oh, my gosh. It probably would have been some firing going on. But because of no union, there


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 11 was noth ing did about it. Only thing she told me was, just pay attention and learn what they do, and catch on. Which I did. But the next day, it really didn't matter, because I quit. E: You left. V: Yeah, I couldn't do it. That, and you have, what? Thirty well, your breaks. This is the time to come in is crazy. They can tell you today, well, you guys come in at seven o'clock and you're going home at eleven. They can come back the day after that and say, well, you guys come in at nine and y'all going to go home to morrow night at twelve; whatever time. That's how it works there. I'm finding out now these people are working Saturday and Sunday, so they're working seven days a week. They have no contract with the union, so it's nothing we can do about it. It's a lot m ore going on in there, I just really don't even feel like sitting here talk about American Catch. It makes me mad thinking about them and how they treat their people not only American Catch, it's a lot of job industries. I'm not going to just sit here and point out that company; it's a lot of companies around here that does that to the employees. They don't really care, just as long as they come to work, do what they have to do, and go home. E: And get the paycheck, right. V: Mm hm. And it's not really ab out that. You know? Like I say, all money isn't good money. We as a people have to understand that, if we want better, we have to do better. If it takes us to leave that place or get a union inside of that place, that's what we need to do. In order to gain something, sometimes we must lose. So, people just have to really be able to take a stand around here.


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 12 E: Right. What do you think the next step would be in getting people to take that stand? I mean, as a union worker, you've come up against some really difficult situations, I guess. Does it seem completely futile to you at this point? V: No. I'll put it to you like this: I'll say, once, about a month ago, I told Rose, people are not scared these days. People are not like back in when they first got the union to come here in the [19]80s. People are not amped up like they were. She was like, no, that's a lie. People just make excuses. She made something that made a lot of sense. She said something to me, she was like, we can go down there and rent out a bu ilding, and we can tell them to come eat with us and drink free with us so we could talk to them. She said, you won't believe it, but probably half of that company inside of there, those people, will be there. But, if you tell them just to come up here or if we go out there and stand on the side of the road like we did last year and with our signs and stuff we got people talking trash to us and they're not going to do that. But, if you guilt someone and that's sad to say that, but that's the way of people a nd that's how people believe it's sad to say, but if you say, well, y'all come on over here; we're going to talk to y'all, but we're going to have y'all some free food and free drinks with you, you can have y'all some beer or something back there in the ba ck for you, you go back there when you get off work, they're going to come. It's sad to say that about them, but taking a stand? They have to be willing to take that first step. I can't do anything about that. They have to want to do that. People here need to want to do that, but they won't. They just want what's given to them. That's all you really and it's sad, when you look at it, because we as a people, you think about working in a catfish


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 13 place and I have worked there, so I know. You can't send your ki ds off to college with that. You can't do that. If that was the case, I would have been in college; probably still right now, you know. My mom couldn't do that; she was a supervisor. But people don't look at that. They don't look at long terms. They're thi nking about today. Well, today doesn't count, because you never know what tomorrow's going to bring. People here are just looking at the fact of, well, I'm just getting a paycheck, instead of looking at, there could be something better about this job. We c an have better benefits. Our kids can you know, it's getting cold. A lot of people here don't have insurance. A lot of kids don't have insurance, and if you go to the clinic, you will see this; people trying to come up with money so their kids can go. Then you take a pla ce like Con Agra or Delta Pride that has a union, I mean, it's only, what, twenty five dollars to send your child up there to see a doctor. You take a place like America's Catch or elsewhere, you have to pay the whole deductible. So, I mean it's good to the union inside these places, and some people just don't want to see that. But it's also, it's ups and downs. I'm not going to say that the union's bad; the union's not bad, it's what we as a people make of the union. We are the people and we are the union. So, what we decide to make of this union is what this union's going to stand for us for. So, it's our decision what goes down on that black and white paper, on this paper. It's our decision. It's us getting up with ourself, coming up here listening to what our representatives have to tell us what's going on. Now, we're missing our union meetings and sitting at home on the couch, eating fried chicken or whatever, then you can't get mad at the union. But you have people that does that, so.


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 14 B: Would you say the recession has made things even more difficult? V: I'm going to tell you, I'm just going to be honest. No. We didn't have a recession here. It's never harmed us. To me, ain't nothing changed in my life. It's just like the bills come q uicker now; that's it. I'm just being honest. No, it hasn't, because we are poor. I'm not going to say we're going to stay poor, but we are poor and the recession really didn't bother us because this ain't nothing we just seeing, we've been seeing this her e, trying to pay these high light bills. I think we have the highest light bills in the world, you know? But still. The recession here, no. It didn't affect us at all. It's been going on here. Nothing's changed. B: Has it shaped the backlash and the resis tance that y'all face? V: No. Nothing changed with the recession. I'm going to be honest. Only thing that changed with the recession for us here is when we found out about a rebate. That's it. I'm just going to be honest with you, because we didn't know a nything about a rebate here. We didn't know that you could qualify for rebates. When we found out about rebates, you should have seen people. It was like, wow? We get rebates? The recession is good to us. It really is, when you think about it. The poor peo ple; the recession is kind of good on us. You have more programs coming in now, like, for example, the STEP program. It's a government program, but it helps you get a job. You had a lot of parents out there, they cannot get a job. I don't care how hard you try, you can go put in an application in every week, every week, call these people every week and they would not call you. But the STEP program come along to Mississippi and now you have people working. You know? You have people that's going to get on thi s program because they


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 15 know this program is going to find them a job. They don't care if it's at McDonalds, Burger King, up here cleaning up; they don't care where it is, but that program, that recession has kind of been good to us. B: What about Obama's election? Could y'all use that mobilize people? I mean, there was a lot of excitement. Couldn't you use that to break that resistance V: Listen, this is the Delta. We do use that. We have the Obama shirts. We have the signs well, we had them last year. W e didn't pull them out this year; they thought that Obama supports us, supports the union. People really don't want to hear that. B: Really. V: No. They want to hear, what is she going to do for us? They don't want to hear that, yeah, Obama is behind us one hundred percent; he believe in unions. They don't want to hear that. When you come to them and you say something, President Obama, they're going to say, okay, what are you going to do for us? Yeah, so, no. We use it; we have used it. But it hasn't done us any good. B: So, at the end of the day, they have a job and they have that steady paycheck, which is a lot in these times, and you just can't get them to V: Yeah, they have their jobs and they have their paycheck, but what happens tomorrow if you go in there and they say, well, you gone. Then what you have? B: Then that's your whole mission, try to get them to V: It's our whole mission, but they're not realizing that. A lot of people tell us they're going to close us down. No, their company was go ing to close down anyway. They won't believe that part, but if you tell them, well, no, the union does not


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 16 make companies close down; the company close down, they just didn't have any money. They was going to close down anyway. They just use that to make t he union look bad, and people run wit h it. For example, went to Moor head, and we went over to this guy's house. He used to work at, where was Baird and he gave us about an hour sit down because he was afraid that, if he signed our card, it was going to e nd up just like Baird. He thought that, when he signed that card, they was going to close their plant down. We had to sit there for about an hour and let them know that companies do not close because of the union. A company don't really care about a union. They try to keep their money in their pockets. They don't care if you want a union. They just don't want to have to pay out pensions and all of those. They don't care if you want a union; hooray if you want a union. They're looking at their pockets when y ou holler, union. What the people fail to realize is, you should be looking at your pocket, too, because this is good benefits coming with this union. This union have scholarships. Maybe my child could get a scholarship, or maybe I could save up my pension money and send my child off to college. They are not looking at that. No, not here. E: All right. B: I think that's about E: Yeah. I don't know if you have anything that you'd like to add, but that was great. V: No, I don't think I have anything to add, but I need my caffeine in the morning. If you guys have another question or something, I don't mind about answering. B: No, that was great. E: Yeah, thank you so much.


MFP 061 ; Veal ; Page 17 V: Yeah, okay. E: All right. [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrows ki, January 2014 Audit e dited by: Sarah Blanc, January 2014 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, April 4, 2014