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Farm Workers' Union Calls for Suspension of Labor Contractors' Licenses

North Carolina is one of the largest users of the H-2A guest worker program, employing between 14,000 and 17,000 H-2A migrant workers annually. (Adobe Stock)
North Carolina is one of the largest users of the H-2A guest worker program, employing between 14,000 and 17,000 H-2A migrant workers annually. (Adobe Stock)
October 21, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. - A farm workers' union wants the U.S. Department of Labor to suspend its H-2A Labor Contractor program.

Farm labor contractors often act as middlemen for industrial agriculture, supplying large-scale farms with seasonal workers.

Justin Flores, vice president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, said employers often can avoid responsibility for workplace violations by paying a labor contractor - and dozens of these contractors operate in North Carolina.

"The Department of Labor allows them to control visas," said Flores. "So they can recruit workers from Mexico, oftentimes charging them thousands of dollars to get a job. And then, using their control over their visas and passports to make sure they don't complain about rights on the job and human rights violations."

Organizers host a virtual event tonight about the effort to place a nationwide moratorium on farm labor contractors' H-2A license approvals until reforms are implemented. Information is online at 'floc.com.'

The Labor Department has said it's committed to investigating workplace violations.

Flores said the DOL announced in March it had fined a North Carolina labor contractor $463,000 for workplace abuses at OJ Smith Farms, including wage theft and putting workers' health at risk. He said the department also told workers they would receive back pay.

"And to date, they haven't gotten a dollar from this labor contractor," said Flores. "And they haven't communicated with one worker about what's going on. These are very serious problems."

Flores acknowledged that growers are often in financial straits. But rather than using labor contractors to cut costs, he said the large corporations that purchase food and tobacco should fairly compensate farms for implementing fair and safe work environments.

"As a union," said Flores, "our solution is that agricultural purchasers, like Reynolds American and supermarket chains, really need to be honest about what it takes to grow these crops in a fair way with good labor practices."

Tomorrow, a group of guest workers and members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee will deliver a petition to the federal Wage and Hour office in Raleigh, calling for accountability and payment of stolen wages.

Disclosure: Farm Labor Organizing Committee contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, Rural/Farming, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC