(CN) – Farm workers in North Carolina claim in court that a recently approved amendment to the state’s Farm Act unfairly targets Latinos and other immigrants and prevents them from unionizing.
In a federal complaint filed Thursday in the Greensboro, North Carolina, the two lead plaintiffs and the Farm labor Organizing Committee claim the Act “mandates that agreements by agricultural employers to administer payroll union dues deductions requested by employees … [are] invalid and unenforceable.”
Secondly, they say, “the Act declares that settlement agreements that include a stipulation that an agricultural employer will recognize or enter into an agreement with a union shall be invalid and unenforceable.”
The plaintiffs say both mechanisms voided by the amendment have been relied on by migrant and immigrant farm workers in North Carolina for decades.
They claim the amendment was an act of retaliation by State Sen. Brent Jackson, owner of Jackson Farming Inc., who had to settle a wage theft case with plaintiff Valentine Hernandez n 2016.
According to the complaint, Jackson and two other lawmakers introduced the amendment in June, just hours before the final vote on the farm bill.
The plaintiffs say the North Carolina General Assembly only discussed the proposal for 10 minutes, and that the public never had an opportunity to comment on it.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee depends on member dues to provide legal assistance to workers who file claims of Fair Labor Standards Act violations and many other services for farm workers and their families.
The committee says its goal is to ensure farm workers — many of them Mexicans who come to the state to work on tobacco, sweet potatoes and Christmas tree farms — have a voice in decisions that affect them in the workplace and communities.
The organization says without an automatic collection mechanism in place, migrant workers will be forced to hold on to money for dues for long periods and this increases the chance they’ll be the victims of theft and robbery.
“The Farm Act obstructs freedom of expression and association guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution for over 100,000 farm workers in North Carolina,” the complaint says. “The Farm Act also violates the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminatorily revoking the contractual rights and privileges from a workforce that is overwhelmingly Latino non-citizens and a union comprised largely of workers from Mexico.”
The plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief.
A call to Sen. Jackson’s office seeking comment was not immediately returned.