Court tem­po­rar­ily blocks anti-union law in NC

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY WILL DO­RAN wdo­[email protected]­sob­ Do­ran: 919- 836-2858; Twit­ter:@will_­do­ran

Agri­cul­ture is one of the big­gest, most pow­er­ful in­dus­tries in North Carolina. But its cor­po­rate and po­lit­i­cal back­ers just lost the first round of a le­gal bat­tle with the in­dus­try’s low­est-paid work­ers.

Last year the N.C. Gen­eral As­sem­bly passed a law that, in part, made it il­le­gal for farms and unions to ne­go­ti­ate set­tle­ments in­volv­ing union con­tracts. It also made it il­le­gal for farm work­ers to di­rectly trans­fer parts of their pay­check to the union as dues.

On Thurs­day, how­ever, a fed­eral judge blocked the law from tak­ing ef­fect — at least tem­po­rar­ily — as the law­suit con­tin­ues wind­ing its way through the court sys­tem. It’s a tem­po­rary re­prieve for the work­ers and a loss for the N.C. Farm Bureau, which The News & Ob­server re­ported was a ma­jor sup­porter of the law.

In North Carolina there is just one union for farm work­ers, the Farm La­bor Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee. It and some of its mem­bers sued to over­turn the law, as did the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter and the NC Jus­tice Cen­ter. FLOC said more than 90 per­cent of farm work­ers in North Carolina are His­panic, and they need a union to band to­gether and fight for bet­ter treat­ment.

“We’re happy that the fed­eral court saw clearly that this racist law was an ef­fort to stop farm­work­ers from hav­ing the re­sources to fund their own in­sti­tu­tion and fight for a more fair work­place,” union pres­i­dent Balde­mar Ve­lasquez said in a press re­lease Thurs­day.

North Carolina is a right-to-work state, which doesn’t mean that unions are il­le­gal but does mean that it’s more dif­fi­cult for unions to op­er­ate than in other states, even with no ad­di­tional re­stric­tions.

For agri­cul­ture, the ad­di­tional re­stric­tions in the 2017 law meant that farms couldn’t di­rectly help work­ers pay their union dues, even if both the farmer and the worker wanted to. It also meant that if a farm was ac­cused of mis­treat­ing its work­ers and the own­ers wanted to avoid a law­suit by set­tling with the union to en­ter into a union con­tract, they also wouldn’t be able to do that.

In 2017, Union County Repub­li­can Rep. Jimmy Dixon, who is a farmer him­self, added the an­tiu­nion lan­guage to that year’s wider-rang­ing Farm Bill. But at the time Dixon told The N&O the in­tent was not to tar­get FLOC specif­i­cally, but rather to help in­di­vid­ual farm­ers who felt pres­sured by the union.

Fed­eral district court judge Loretta Biggs, how­ever, ruled Thurs­day that the law likely vi­o­lates the con­sti­tu­tional rights of farm work­ers, and so it should be blocked from go­ing into ef­fect while the law­suit is un­der­way. So for both sides, the fight is not yet over. But that didn’t stop al­lies of the farm work­ers from cel­e­brat­ing Thurs­day’s win.

“North Carolina’s law is clearly de­signed to make it harder, if not im­pos­si­ble, for the state’s only farm­work­ers union to ad­vo­cate for sorely needed pro­tec­tions against ex­ploita­tion and bad work­ing con­di­tions,” Brian Hauss, a staff at­tor­ney at the ACLU, said Thurs­day in a press re­lease.

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