Unionized Farmworkers Reach Pact with Hundreds of NC Farms
Monday, February 27, 2023
Unionized farmworkers recently signed a collective-bargaining agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association.
The new agreement protects the rights of more than 9,000 H-2A visa workers on hundreds of farms throughout the state.
Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, said the two-year agreement gives workers participating in the immigrant visa program unprecedented security. He explained H-2A workers are prone to exploitation by labor contractors who steal wages or force them to live in unsafe housing.
"One of the big items in the collective-bargaining agreement is that the workers have a right to file grievances without retaliation for recruiting violations in Mexico," Velasquez explained.
The agreement also ends the widespread practice of "blacklisting" workers who lodge complaints. North Carolina is one of the largest users of this type of temporary agricultural visa, with between 14,000 and 17,000 H-2A workers annually, according to state data.
Velasquez pointed out the collective-bargaining agreement also secures the right for workers to return to the U.S. again and work after their contacts have ended, based on seniority.
"We've had workers that have been coming back since 2005, when we initiated this collective-bargaining agreement," Velasquez emphasized. "That gives them seniority ability to return and continue to make money for the families in Mexico."
He noted the latest agreement does not extend to all farmers in the state, and added the union continues to work on ways for farms to systemically respond to labor issues.
"There's no structure," Velasquez contended. "Part of our challenge is creating a structure that would allow us to have a systemic response to these things."
According to the Farm Labor Organizing Committee's Impact Report, union organizers processed more than 1,600 farmworker cases last year.
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