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State Budget Cuts Impact Migrant Worker Protection in NC

April 5, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina's significant budget cuts in 2011 are having an effect on the amount of protection available to migrant workers in the state, according to their organizing union. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), is trying to step in to protect the workers by meeting with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco to discuss the treatment of workers in the tobacco fields, but the company has turned down their offer.

FLOC spokesperson Briana Connors explains why her organization feels someone needs to fight for the workers.

"They have no way to grieve their concerns without fear of retaliation. We found that a lot of workers are being paid less than minimum wage. And there were very young workers."

FLOC is embarking on a new effort to reach Reynolds through McLane, a distribution company for many Reynolds products. To do that, they are contacting Kangaroo convenience stores, which do business with McLane. FLOC hopes they can pressure McLane and Kangaroo to arrange a meeting. A consumer campaign will begin in the coming weeks, but no boycott is planned.

Connors says fair treatment of migrant workers should be everyone's concern.

"This is a basic human rights issue. Whether you smoke or not, whether or not you use tobacco products, migrant workers are people in our community, and these are serious abuses happening in our community."

The North Carolina Department of Labor saw a budget reduction of $1.1 million from 2010 to 2011, and another $1.6 million the year before that. The Agriculture Safety and Health Bureau, which monitors worker safety, lost one staff position last year.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NC