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Federal Judge Overturns NC Anti-Farmworker Law

farmer working in the field
By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on September 24, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

North Carolina farmworkers are embroiled in a legal battle with the state legislature over whether an anti-union law adopted in 2017 violates civil rights laws. That law made it illegal for farms and labor unions to negotiate settlements involving union contracts, as well as for farmworkers to directly transfer parts of their paycheck to the union as dues, even if they agree to it.

Though the legality of this new anti-union law is still being debated in the legal system, a federal judge declared that it seems likely that the law is unconstitutional, and therefore barred it from being in effect while under legal review.

North Carolina -- a "Right to Work" State

North Carolina is a "right to work" state. Though the title may be misleading, the philosophy behind "right to work" laws is that every individual has the right to join a labor union, but cannot be required to. Therefore, these states mandate that no one can be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Also, unions can't create contracts that require employers to only hire unionized workers. Taken altogether, the intended effect of the laws is make it very difficult for a union to be effective.

Right to Work + Anti-Union Law = Insurmountable Disadvantage

Agriculture is North Carolina's most powerful industry. Using its power and affluence, it was able to lobby the North Carolina General Assembly to pass the new anti-union law. Layered on top of the "right to work" laws, it became increasingly impossible for unions to form and be effective. There is just one union for North Carolina farm workers, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Over 90% of North Carolina's farm workers are hispanic, and they felt that they were being mistreated, based on race. Therefore, FLOC, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and North Carolina Justice Suit filed suit on behalf of these workers to fight for better treatment in the workplace.

Tipping Point: No Direct Deposit of Union Dues

The tipping point in the anti-union law was the "direct deposit" prohibition. Union employees agreed to have money deposited directly into a FLOC bank account to pay for union dues, and the employers agreed to do so. But the law forbids these sorts of direct deposits between employers and unions. Therefore, it was getting harder and harder for the unions to collect dues. Many union workers did not have bank accounts, and so this required a union representative to collect cash at meetings. Such collections were hit and miss, and they required an administrative cost, thereby diverting precious funds away from more pressing labor issues.

The judge in this case declared that the anti-union law cannot be put in effect until its constitutionality is declared. Though this is a victory in the battle for the right to have an effective union, plaintiffs have not yet won the war, which will continue to rage on in the local federal court system.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of unfair labor practices, in violation of First Amendment rights to unionize and Fourteenth Amendment Rights to equal protection, contact a local labor union attorney. A well-trained lawyer can listed to the facts of your case and apply them to current local, state and federal laws to determine if your rights are being violated, and advocate for your justice.

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