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By: Paul H. Derrick
For years, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a small Ohio-based union that is the only labor organization representing farmworkers in the State of North Carolina, has used actual and threatened lawsuits as a means of getting farmers in the state to voluntarily recognize and bargain with it. The state’s Farm Act of 2017 contains provisions aimed at stopping that coercive tactic, and FLOC is making good on its promise to fight back.
The Farm Act makes it a violation of the state’s public policy for farms, most of which are small, family-owned operations, to collect membership dues from employees and forward them along to a union, even if the union and the farm have executed a collective bargaining agreement that requires such dues collection. The law also makes it a violation of public policy for a union to require that a farm enter into a union contract as a means of settling a lawsuit or avoiding litigation in the first place.
Represented by civil rights lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the North Carolina Justice Center, the union and two individual migrant farmworkers, both of whom previously brought legal actions against their non-union employers, have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Governor Roy Cooper and the director of the North Carolina court system. The lawsuit claims that the Farm Act impedes their First Amendment right to participate in union activity and is racially discriminatory (i.e., because most of the state’s farmworkers are Latino). It demands that the court declare portions of the Farm Act to be unconstitutional and also asks that preliminary and permanent injunctions be entered to restrain state officials from enforcing those provisions of the law.
North Carolina farmers employ about 100,000 workers annually, and FLOC claims to have almost 5,000 dues-paying members among that workforce. Because there are no federal or North Carolina laws that give agricultural workers a right to demand a union election, FLOC insists that the only way it can organize workers is by actual or threatened lawsuits over issues such as alleged wage and hour violations, where part of the settlement demanded includes farmers voluntarily recognizing the union as the bargaining representative of their employees and collecting dues from the workers on behalf of the union.
A copy of FLOC’s lawsuit can be found here. We will continue to keep you apprised of developments in this area as they occur. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Paul Derrick at [email protected].