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FLOC joins fight against North Carolina farm bill

Local union decries measure that would curtail organizing

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Local members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee are scrambling to persuade North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to veto a bill that severely would limit their organizing power.

Representatives from FLOC, which has its headquarters in Toledo but functions as the only agricultural union in North Carolina, said a last-minute amendment to a bill ratified Thursday targets them by preventing farms from settling lawsuits with improved union contracts.

The amendment also forbids agricultural producers from directly transferring funds to labor unions to pay workers’ dues.

If Governor Cooper signs the bill into law, FLOC likely would have to travel around the state to physically collect dues from workers at the roughly 700 farms it represents. Justin Flores, FLOC vice president, said this inconvenience would cut the time employees could devote to advocating for its largely immigrant membership base.

“They are looking to do anything they can to stop the work our members are doing out there,” Mr. Flores said.

The Farm Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Brent Jackson (R., District 10), who owns a farm in Autryville, N.C. In 2014, FLOC helped settle a wage theft dispute between Mr. Jackson’s operation and several of its workers. In 2016, seven union members brought another suit against the senator’s business for unfair labor practices. The litigation was settled, but Mr. Flores said Mr. Jackson blacklisted the 7 complainants from his farm.

“It’s definitely unethical for growers who don’t want to see their workers to have union rights making it illegal,” Mr. Flores said. “These are people elected to represent the state, not their own business interests.”

Two other proponents of the Farm Act, Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R., District 4) and Rep. David Lewis (R., Dictrict 53), are also farmers with operations in North Carolina. Mr. Dixon characterized the amendment as a “right-to-work provision,” a type of law that guarantees employees cannot be compelled to join a union.

“We believe that it will enhance our local agricultural community and possibly be a deterrent to outside organizations in making attempts to establish unions where folks really don’t want them or need them.”

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Lewis could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

The state AFL-CIO publicly rebuked the amendment, saying it supports FLOC’s efforts to fight the bill.

“It is a conflict of interest and an abuse of power for legislators who are also growers to push policies that infringe on farm workers’ freedom of association and make it more difficult for them to collectively negotiate for better wages and working conditions,” Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan said in a statement issued last week.

The ratified bill was presented to the governor on June 29. Mr. Cooper has 30 days to sign or veto the legislation. If signed into law, the Farm Act only will apply to agreements reached after its implementation, meaning it will not invalidate FLOC’s current contracts with farms across North Carolina.

Contact Antonia Ayres-Brown at: abrown@theblade.com or 419-724-6368.

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