North Carolina Is Trying to Destroy the State’s Only Farmworkers Union. We’re Suing.

Arturo Hernandez, a farmworker from Mexico and a FLOC member. Hernandez, who works in Samson County, N.C., was recently injured on the job. (Photo: Jeremy M. Lange)

Dolores Huerta, the legendary civil rights icon and farmworker activist, had it right: “Organized labor is a necessary part of democracy.” Day in and day out, unions struggle to make sure that farmworkers have a voice in in their workplace and in their communities, but they face enormous obstacles.

Farmworkers, most of whom are people of color and many of whom are in this country on temporary visas, have long been excluded from federal and state labor laws. That means they don’t enjoy many of the key protections under the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and numerous state minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and youth employment laws. As a result, they face high risks to their health and safety, substandard living conditions, and abuse and exploitation by their employers.

Now North Carolina has mounted a direct assault on the state’s only farmworkers union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which works tirelessly to protect those workers. A new state law, sponsored and supported by legislators who have a financial interest in suppressing farmworker organizing, would make it all but impossible for the union to operate effectively in the state. Together with a coalition of civil rights groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the North Carolina Justice Center, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the law violates farmworkers’ constitutional and civil rights. We have also asked the court for a preliminary injunction, which would suspend the law’s operation during the course of the litigation.

The lawsuit challenges the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017, which attacks FLOC in two different ways. First, the law invalidates contracts guaranteeing that employers will honor their employees’ requests to deduct union dues from their paychecks, otherwise known as union dues checkoffs. Farmworkers, many of whom lack access to basic banking services, rely on these checkoffs to make timely and regular contributions to the union. Without checkoffs, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the union to collect the money it needs to operate. Second, the law invalidates settlement agreements negotiated by the union to advance farmworkers’ rights, fatally undermining lawsuits meant to improve the working conditions of farmworkers throughout North Carolina.

North Carolina’s law clearly violates farmworkers’ First Amendment rights to association and expression. As the Supreme Court has long recognized, “The practice of persons sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end is deeply embedded in the American political process.” That’s why the First Amendment prohibits the government from adopting measures that are directly intended to burden expressive associations like labor unions. Thus, for example, the Supreme Court rejected state government attempts to attack the NAACP by forcing the organization to disclose its membership lists and preventing it from assisting in litigation. As the court recognized, groups like FLOC and the NAACP serve to empower marginalized voices. If the government is allowed to destroy these groups, those voices will be effectively silenced.

North Carolina’s law also violates other important constitutional and statutory civil rights protections, including the Equal Protection Clause. By targeting FLOC alone, the law intentionally discriminates against the state’s farmworkers, a group largely composed of noncitizen migrant workers from Mexico. It’s worth mentioning that the law was sponsored by state Sen. Brent Jackson, the owner of Jackson Farming Company, which was recently sued by Latino farmworkers with FLOC’s assistance. State Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the only legislator to speak in support of the law’s anti-worker provisions on the statehouse floor, said that the law was necessary “because there seems to be a growing of folks that are interested in farm labor.”

Whatever North Carolina legislators might think, the Constitution does not give them the authority to suppress labor movements. We’re fighting to make sure that FLOC and its members can continue to advocate, loudly and proudly, for farmworkers’ interests.

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Dr. Joseph Goebbels

"In the new Germany there will be no labor unions.": Adolf Hitler circa 1933.

Anonymous

True, all the labor was done by slaves of various backgrounds, mostly Jewish. This is why the Russian took that German poon tang at will.

Anonymous

So, the farms won't be required to do banking for the Union. And if the farm labor contract has an at-will-employment clause (which it should), the farms could just fire everyone for any cause... I see how you avoid mentioning what those "settlement agreements negotiated by the union to advance farmworkers’ rights" were, being vague there is a lawyer thing BTW. Seems like a weak case, but I guess you'll fight the good fight if that's how you want to spend your time. The Telecommunications Union I worked for in the early 2000's in the S.F. Bay Area was about the most belligerent and corrupt thing I had ever seen. There was no room for individual initiative for advancement, or facility for knowledge and outside experience to give space for a higher entry position, as everything (including seniority) was managed by The Union for that non-negotiable union due. Now that we have OSHA/CalOSHA, I personally say "good riddance" to unions with enthusiasm, their time has passed.

CommunismUnion

I was a non-manager for bell labs with 30 IBEW installers reporting to me. I agree with your statements. The Union was for the old lazy dudes that sat around in the “tool shop”. All the younger installers paid dues but rarely went to meetings and when I encouraged them to go, the Union had beer delivered so everyone was drunk. Hahaha! Unfortunately they cut their own throat. Bells labs went out of business after Lucent and I had to fire all of them.

Anonymous

Banking for the union? What employer isn't capable of simple withholding from wages? What a drama queen.

Anonymous

Such ignorance. Unions are the backbone of the middle class and any stable economy. No, you should not be able to be fired "for any cause," obviously. Due process is vital.

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babyowl53

Interesting...how can people of "color" not be protected. Unless they are illegal that makes zero sense.

Anonymous

Hard to believe considering there is no such place as Samson County in NC

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