North Carolina farmworkers protest attack on their right to organize

July 18 protest in Raleigh, N.C. outside Capitol.

Raleigh, N.C. — The Farm Labor Organizing Committee and other labor and community allies rallied July 18 at the state Capitol in Raleigh, N.C. Their immediate goal was to deliver a letter of protest to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who had, days before, signed Farm Bill SB 615, attacking the right of farmworkers to organize.

At the rally, the groups announced they were filing a lawsuit to challenge SB 615 for violations of the right to freedom of assembly and the constitutional rights of farmworkers, especially for being singled out for elimination of union payroll deduction.

“This type of abandonment of immigrant workers is nothing new from the Democratic or Republican parties. We’ve been excluded from every labor law reform since the racist exclusion of farmworkers from the National Labor Relations Act in 1935,” said FLOC President Baldemar Velásquez. “We plan to challenge this bill in the courts, as a violation of farmworkers’ rights to freedom of assembly and speech and to continue our fight for better wages for immigrant families in the state.” (PayDay Report, July 13)

Earlier in the legislative session, a bill passed in the state Senate, SB 375, would have eliminated payroll deduction for all unions in public and private sectors in North Carolina.

But when anti-union SB 375 went to the N.C. House, pushback from unions made it impossible for sponsors to secure the necessary votes for passage. Concerted opposition came from the N.C. Association of Educators; N.C. AFL-CIO; and United Electrical Workers Local 150, the N.C. Public Service Workers Union.

So Rep. David Lewis, who chairs the House Rules Committee and is a farm owner in Dunn, N.C., pivoted to attack farmworkers by slipping anti-union language into SB 615. Besides nixing union payroll deductions, the Farm Bill SB 615 also eliminates the right of workers to collectively bargain directly with farmers.

SB 615 is a vicious attack on the progress made by FLOC in recent months, particularly with its important victories for kale and sweet potato pickers, all Latinx migrant workers. FLOC is also in the midst of a powerful international campaign to organize RJ Reynolds, whose primary U.S. source for tobacco is North Carolina fields.

The attack on farmworkers through SB 615 comes after a major wage theft settlement this January between FLOC and state Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Sampson), the powerful co-chairman of the N.C. Senate Appropriations Committee, who is president of the Jackson Farming Company.

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