Earlier today, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed the state’s Farm Act, which prohibits farmworkers’ unions from collecting union dues directly from workers’ paychecks.
Labor activists say that the provision in the bill, SB 615, was aimed at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which represents 10,000 farmworkers in North Carolina. Earlier this year, FLOC was able to force a major settlement from North Carolina State Brent Jackson.
“This attack on farm workers’ rights is most likely in retaliation for a series of lawsuits brought by farm workers and their union (Farm Labor Organizing Committee) over wage theft and mistreatment on several farms in Eastern NC — including one owned by Sen. Brent Jackson, who sponsored this bill and chaired the Senate conference committee” said North Carolina AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillian. “It is a clear conflict of interest and blatant abuse of power for legislators who are also growers to push policies that allow them to gain more and more profit on the backs of their workers.”
Organized labor had hoped that Democratic Governor Roy Cooper would veto the bill,meeting with him twice to lobby against it. Yesterday, however, they received word that the Governor intended to sign it.
“We got a call from his office yesterday evening and were told that it was the fact that they don’t have the votes to stop an override, and that the Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly were not all on the same page [on the bill],” says FLOC Vice President Justin Flores. “However, both of those were not necessarily true, so we really don’t know the true motivation. This is an embarrassing show for a Democratic governor and the reason Democrats keep losing.”
Republicans hold supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, enabling them to overturn Cooper’s veto as long as the caucus sticks together. In 2016, a three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina found that twenty-eight of the state’s 170 legislative districts that were drawn in 2011 when the Republicans took power were “racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause,” and ordered the maps be redrawn and special elections called in 2017.
Last month, the Supreme Court agreed that the districts were racially gerrymandered, but vacated the order for new special elections, meaning that North Carolina voters will very likely have to wait until at least 2018 to vote for legislators whose seats haven’t been ruled to be in direct violation of the Constitution.
Considering the legislature’s very public hatred for him, however, Cooper could have vetoed the bill as a protest against the anti-union provisions of the bill. He did not. And after Cooper signed the bill, the outrage from organized labor in the state was near unanimous.
“We are deeply disappointed that Gov. Cooper plans to sign the Farm Bill (S615),” said N.C. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillian. “This legislation singles out farm workers and undermines their freedom of association and ability to collectively negotiate for better wages and working conditions.”
Labor groups in the state, including FLOC, the North Carolina AFL-CIO, and UE Local 150 plan to hold a rally at the Governor’s office next Tuesday to protest the Governor’s decision, as many fear that the governor’s failure to veto the bill will lead to even more attacks against unions by the legislature.
“It’s a warning sign for people in our movement that we need to remain vigilant,” says North Carolina Public Service Workers Union UE Local 150 organizer Dante Strobinho.
Another anti-labor bill, SB 375, would eliminate dues check off for public employees; that bill passed the Senate in April. Strobinho fears that Cooper signing SB 615 opens the door to even more attacks on unions in a state that already has one of the lowest membership rates in the country.
“They always try to attack the most vulnerable first. They try to attack Muslims, they try to attack Latinos, they try to isolate them. However, the general population isn’t isolated,” says Strobinho. “They start these attacks to create wedges. They are trying to start an avalanche to attack all workers and eliminate payroll deduction for public employees.”
FLOC also vows to challenge the measure in court. They say that the measure violates their right to assembly and the constitutional rights of farmworkers by eliminated dues check off just for farmworkers and not other organizations such as charities like the United Way and other unions.
“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” says FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez. “We plan to challenge this bill in the courts, as a violation of farmworkers rights to freedom of assembly and speech and continue our fight for better wages for immigrant families in the state.”
Mike Elk is a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild and is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and has written for the New York Times. He also writes the Guardian.
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