A farmworkers’ union in Eastern North Carolina is trying to stop a state law that makes it harder for farmworkers to collectively bargain.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, based in Dudley, along with two individual farmworkers and three civil rights groups filed a joint lawsuit in federal court last week, seeking to overturn the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017. The state law prevents farmworkers from negotiating union contracts through lawsuit settlements and having membership dues deducted from their paychecks, which would make it harder for the union to collect dues, said Catherine Crowe, an organizer for the farmworkers’ union.
“Without the automatic dues deduction, we’ll have to visit each camp across North Carolina, from the beach to the mountains, to physically pick up the dues money,” Crowe said. “So, instead of organizing workers and fixing and improving labor conditions, we’ll be focused more on collecting dues.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue the state law discriminates against Latino non-citizens and violates farmworkers’ First Amendment rights. Justin Flores, vice president of the farmworkers’ union, says he's confident that the judge will find the law unconstitutional.
“It’s very clear that the agricultural workforce is almost entirely Latino and foreign-born. It’s very clear that this bill was passed at a time when FLOC and FLOC members have been even more and more publicly speaking out about these issues,” Flores said. “And so it was passed as a way to try to stop that, shut up our workers and shut up our union.”
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction earlier this week to stop the law from taking effect until the court issues a final decision, Flores said.