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Workers’ Rights

We are working to secure Southern workers’ rights

The Southern Poverty Law Center works to eradicate poverty in the Deep South through strategic advocacy that expands rights, demands dignity and builds power for low-wage Black and Brown workers.

Governments in the Deep South rely on entrenched, racist structures to lure companies to the region. These structures – low wages, anti-union laws, weak state-level labor protections and a lack of oversight – were historically designed to disenfranchise Black and Brown workers. Today, these structures still place substantial barriers to the realization of economic equality in the region.

The Deep South’s lack of labor protections disproportionately affects immigrant workers, who tend to labor in the region’s lowest-paying and most dangerous industries. For workers here on temporary work visas, or “guest workers,” and whose immigration status is often tied to a single employer, an abusive workplace can spiral into extreme forms of labor exploitation, including labor trafficking. Employers far too often threaten immigrant workers with deportation if they complain, meaning many labor abuses never come to light. The exploitation of low-wage immigrant workers in the region is a systemic problem that degrades labor standards for all Southern workers.

We are dedicated to dismantling racist, exploitative workplace structures that perpetuate poverty among Black and Brown workers. We engage in litigation and advocacy that defends and expands workplace rights, removes barriers to collective action and unionization, and protects workers from retaliation for spotlighting abuse. Our goal is to eradicate poverty in the Deep South through transformative labor rights advocacy.

We have been filing innovative cases that expand the law and win meaningful relief for workers for nearly two decades. We have recovered approximately $45 million in judgments and settlements for workers via strategic lawsuits and have obtained numerous precedent-setting opinions in federal court that are key to reforming an exploitative labor system in the South. These opinions also demonstrate the intersectional nature of economic exploitation and expanding protections for workers. We continue to challenge systemic abuse by litigating against the most powerful economic interests and largest employers in the Deep South, including the agriculture industry and poultry and meat processing.

We engage in advocacy with agencies, policymakers, and the public to uplift the struggle of low-wage workers in the South. We regularly present the findings of our work to federal agencies and Congress. We have also published reports on guest worker programs.