Judge Blocks NC Law Limiting Union Activity by Farm Workers

GREENSBORO, N.C. (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a new North Carolina law that would make it illegal for agriculture producers to help workers participate in unions, deciding the Farm Act of 2017 is unconstitutional.

Last November, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the North Carolina  Justice Center sued Governor Roy Cooper and State  Attorney Joshua Stein over the Act’s anti-union language on behalf of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs issued a preliminary injunction keeping the law from going into effect, after concluding it may violate constitutional rights of farmworkers.

Passed by the General Assembly last year, the law prohibits farms and unions to negotiate settlements related to union contracts. Additionally, it includes an amendment that prevents agricultural producers from directly transferring funds to labor unions in order to pay membership fees or dues.

Under the law, The Farm Labor Organizing Committee would have to travel across the state to collect each payment because its members and employers are not permitted to transfer money directly from their paychecks.

The plaintiffs argue this provision of the law impedes the First Amendment rights of farmworkers to participate in unions and is especially discriminatory toward Mexican farmworkers.

“We’re happy that the federal court saw clearly that this racist law was an effort to stop farmworkers from having the resources to fund their own institution and fight for a more fair workplace,” said Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez in a written statement..

The organization administers collective bargaining agreements covering about 10,000 farmworkers in the state, according to the complaint, and has roughly 6,000 dues-paying members. It says some workers may rely on transfer arrangements to pay their union dues, because of their residential and financial status. The Farm Act of 2017 would make this illegal.

Judge Biggs’ opinion says the vast majority of the organization’s members are from Mexico and work seasonally in the United States.

According to the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, many of these members lack ready access to U.S. bank accounts, credit cards and other means of making regular union dues payments.

Low income and lack of transportation from isolated agricultural areas contribute to the adversities faced by guest-workers from Mexico that could become heightened if the law eventually takes effect.

When Representative Jimmy Dixon introduced the contested amendment in June 2017, he stated “The amendment would prohibit the use of litigation to force farms to unionize and ensure farmers are not required to collect dues for their employees.”

He noted that this amendment would reinforce the state’s right-to-work statutes.

“This reduces a regulatory burden on farms that is not required under federal law and is completely within the State’s purview to regulate” added Dixon, who is the owner of Dixon Farms in Duplin County.

When Dixon was asked in a public hearing last year if he was afraid of workers unionizing, he responded “Sir, I’m not afraid of anything and I understand that food is very important. And so, no, we’re not afraid, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And there are predatory folks that make a good living coming around and getting people to be dissatisfied, and a few of us farmers are getting a little bit tired of it and we want some properly measured priority so that we can continue to feed you.”

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