NC State Legislators Take Aim at Farmworkers’ Union

Courts will decide fate of anti-union law

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) has achieved something remarkable in North Carolina: they have organized and won union contracts improving wages and working conditions for nearly 5,000 North Carolina farmworkers. This is remarkable because right-to-work North and South Carolina have the lowest union membership rates in the United States (roughly 3%). It’s remarkable because farmworkers don’t enjoy the legal protections of the National Labor Relations Act. Most of all it is remarkable because these union members are vulnerable guest workers from Mexico, in the United States at the pleasure of their employers.

In 2017, North Carolina state legislators moved to shut it all down.

In last-minute amendments to the state’s 2017 Farm Act, anti-union legislators inserted language prohibiting “dues checkoff,” the method most union members use to pay their dues. In a typical union workplace, new employees sign an authorization form permitting the employer to deduct their union dues from their paycheck, much the way they would authorize a payroll deduction for a 401k retirement plan or other employee benefit. The workers covered by FLOC contracts are spread across more than 500 farms in the state – in the absence of dues checkoff, FLOC’s small staff would have to set aside their real job of representing their members and instead spend all their time making site visits to collect dues.

The union and its allies have filed suit in federal court, arguing that the new law violates the farmworkers’ constitutional rights. If farmworkers want FLOC to be their voice on the job, authorizing dues deduction is an exercise of free speech. The law also arguably discriminates against workers based on their ethnicity (virtually all the affected workers are Latino) and immigration status (virtually all the affected workers are H2A visa holders).

The law is not currently being enforced, as this September the US Magistrate granted a preliminary injunction to preserve the farmworkers’ union representation while the litigation proceeds. The Catholic Labor Network will keep you informed as the case develops.

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