December 1, 2017
ACLU of North Carolina, Southern Poverty Law Center, and NC Justice Center join federal lawsuit over 2017 farm bill
Members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which represents thousands of seasonal farm workers, have gone to court over a state law that stripped 100,000 people working on North Carolina farms of their constitutional rights.
The North Carolina Farm Act of 2017 takes away the ability of FLOC members to have dues deducted from their paychecks and prohibits any grower from signing any voluntary agreement — like union recognition or a collectively negotiated contract — related to a lawsuit. Sen. Brent Jackson, the law’s primary sponsor, and Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the only lawmaker who spoke in favor of the last-minute, anti-union additions to the farm bill, are both growers, and Sen. Jackson has a history of being sued over illegal employment practices like wage theft and retaliation.
On November 15, FLOC a coalition of civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging a state law that guts the ability of farmworkers to organize and make collective bargaining agreements with employers.
The lawsuit argues that the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017 impedes farmworkers’ First Amendment right to participate in unions, and 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.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of FLOC and two FLOC members. It was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the North Carolina Justice Center, and the Law Offices of Robert J. Willis. The groups are asking the court to block implementation of the law as the challenge proceeds.
“Politicians that are also growers shouldn’t pass self-serving laws simply because they don’t want their workers to unionize. With the continuation of Jim Crow-era laws that aim to stop a now almost entirely Latino workforce from organizing, this is an affront to freedom of association and smacks of racism. Companies like Reynolds American should be embarrassed that growers in their supply chains are attacking the very farmworkers who make their companies’ wealth,” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez.
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.