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NC Farmers Accused of Using Immigration Threats to Discourage Legal Claims

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Farm workers are often paid for each bucket of kale they pick on North Carolina farms. (Dennis Amith/
Farm workers are often paid for each bucket of kale they pick on North Carolina farms. (Dennis Amith/
 By Stephanie CarsonContact
May 22, 2017

ROSE HILL, N.C. – You might not look at your kale smoothie the same way again.

Four migrant farmworkers recently settled a class action lawsuit against an eastern North Carolina farm.

The farm workers alleged unsafe working conditions and wage theft as they picked kale and other vegetables from Teachey Produce in Rose Hill.

Catherine Crowe, a spokeswoman for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), the farmworker union that assisted the plaintiffs, says as kale grows in popularity, it's important to think of how it's getting to your store.

"Oftentimes we see people talk about kale as a trendy crop in the market, and they want it to be organic and from local farmers, but a lot of people forget to think about the people who are picking the kale and what that means,” she points out. “And if there are abuses in the fields, who is there to protect them and are there remedies for those problems?"

The four migrant workers involved worked with FLOC to settle their individual disputes, only to have the produce stand respond with threats to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and be "kicked back to Mexico."

Teachey Produce is ordered to pay $60,000 to resolve the claims. Attempts to reach the farm in response to this story were unsuccessful.

Crowe says cases of unsafe working conditions and threats of deportation are increasingly more common with the current climate of immigration law.

"Farm workers are excluded from a lot of labor laws to protect workers in this country,” she states. “Farm workers don't get overtime pay, they don't qualify oftentimes for worker's compensation, and they don't have freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain with their employer, which means that it's harder for workers to speak out if there are issues."

Last year California passed a law entitling farm workers to overtime pay.

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.

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