INDY WEEK (Raleigh, North Carolina)

July 19, 2017

 

Farmworkers Blast Governor Cooper for Signing a Bill They Say Hurts Their Ability to Unionize

 

Posted by Sammy Hanf

 

Farmworkers were joined by other activists outside Raleigh’s Capitol building Tuesday to denounce a bill that they say threatens their ability to organize.

Senate Bill 615, signed by Governor Cooper last Wednesday, makes it illegal for farmers to deduct voluntary union dues from their workers’ paychecks and also prohibits workers from reaching a legal settlement as part of a union agreement.

Justin Flores, vice president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, says it’s a shameful attack on the union’s ability to raise funds and hobbles a proven strategy for farmworkers who are already earning very little in reaching agreements with their employers. 

“It's not gonna stop our work. We're gonna keep going,” Flores says. “We've been a poor union for a long time. We've never had resources. We've never had politicians that supported us. So we'll find a way.” 

Flores says preventing the FLOC from collecting dues directly from the employer presents huge logistical difficulties. The population represented by the union doesn’t often have bank accounts and can’t easily send money to an office that may be hundreds of miles from them.

"We had people driving around to six hundred farms every week to collect dues,” Flores says. “The members would still pay dues; it's just obvious, with that much logistical problems, it would limit the amount of money that comes in for the union to be able to do the work that we do."

Julie Taylor, executive director of the National Farm Worker Ministry, also filed an ethics complaint yesterday against two legislators who supported the bill, alleging conflict of interest and the use of public position for private gain.

The complaints were filed against Senator Brent Jackson and Representative David Lewis, both of whom are farmers with employees represented by the FLOC. Jackson sponsored the bill and Lewis oversaw a committee where amendments affecting the the FLOC’s collective bargaining deal were added.

“For us, that’s a conflict of interest,” Taylor says. “You want to get the union away so you don’t have to deal with them and do whatever you want to do with your farmworkers and give them less of a voice in collective bargaining.”

Jackson recently settled a lawsuit against former workers represented by the FLOC seeking back wages and alleging retaliation after not being rehired following an initial lawsuit.

Jackson and Lewis could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Baldemar Velasquez, FLOC founder and president, spoke to the crowd in Raleigh. He says legislation like this shows that, despite North Carolina being a strong right-to-work state, the union is effective enough to be a threat.

"In a way, it's a compliment to our effectiveness in this state that we're singled out by these powerful farmers because we sue them, we beat them in court, and we'll continue to do so, and they know that. So now they wanna do something to put the brakes on,” Velasquez said.