A North Carolina state law guts the ability of farmworkers to organize and make collective bargaining agreements with employers.
North Carolina farmworkers and a coalition of civil rights groups – including the SPLC – sued to block implementation of the law on November 15, 2017 in federal district court. The suit was filed on behalf of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and two farmworkers, and the defendants are North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein and Marion R. Warren, director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.
The lawsuit argues that the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017 impedes farmworkers’ First Amendment right to participate in unions. The suit also asserts that the law is discriminatory, as more than 90 percent of the state’s agricultural workers are Latino. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the government cannot impose special burdens on expressive associations such as unions.
Specifically, the state law bars farmworker unions from entering into agreements with employers to have union dues transferred from paychecks — even if the union members want it, and even if the employer agrees to the arrangement. Because North Carolina is a so-called “right-to-work” state, dues deductions can only occur when individual workers choose to have dues deducted.
Many of FLOC’s members are guest-workers who lack ready access to U.S. bank accounts, credit cards and other means of making regular union dues payments, and they therefore rely on dues transfer arrangements to pay their union dues. If those arrangements become invalid, the union will be required to divert most of its limited resources to collecting dues individually from each worker.
The law’s primary sponsor was state Sen. Brent Jackson, who owns Jackson Farming Company and was sued for wage theft by Latino farmworkers who were helped by FLOC. State Rep. Jimmy Dixon, an owner of Jimmy Dixon farm in Duplin County, was the only legislator to speak in favor of the anti-worker provisions in the bill on the House floor. He said the law was necessary because “there seems to be a growing wave of folks that are interested in farm labor.”
More than 100,000 farmworkers provide labor to North Carolina farms, helping to generate more than $12 billion for the state economy. The vast majority are Latinos and work seasonally, many under temporary H2A visas.