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January 2008, Volume 14, Number 1

North Carolina: FLOC

FLOC-NC. The Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee in October 2007 announced plans to pressure RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company to improve wages and conditions for the workers employed on North Carolina tobacco farms. After a five-year boycott, North Carolina's Mount Olive Pickle Company in 2004 raised the prices it pays growers for cucumbers and asked them to allow FLOC organizers into their labor camps.

FLOC represents the H-2A workers brought to North Carolina by the North Carolina Growers Association; these H-2As workers harvest cucumbers as well as tobacco. RJ Reynolds said it would not negotiate with FLOC.

FLOC says it has 12,000 members in six states, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina; they pay 2.5 percent of their earnings in dues. FLOC has 10 staff in North Carolina and three in Mexico, and says it processed 4,000 grievances from members in 2006-07.

The North Carolina Department of Labor's Agriculture Safety & Health Bureau will have seven inspectors to check on farm worker housing in 2008. In 2006, the bureau completed 1,080 preoccupancy inspections of housing, and another 113 housing sites were certified because they had Gold Star status, which leads to every-other-year inspections of farm worker housing.

Bureau director Regina Luginbuhl estimates there may be 3,000 migrant farm worker housing sites in North Carolina, suggesting that less than half are inspected by the state.

West Virginia. Two Puerto Rican workers filed a suit in October 2007 accusing Pilgrim's Pride of Elkins (WV) of violating the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The men say they were promised $8 an hour jobs, assembled original birth certificates and other documents and bought tickets to travel from Puerto Rico to the plant. Upon arrival, they were offered substandard housing whose cost Pilgrim's Pride deducted from their wages. They complained and were fired.

The suit alleges that Pilgrim's Pride and recruitment agency Maxi-Staff violated MSPA by not disclosing wages and working conditions in writing and the FLSA by paying them for the time they worked.

Some farmers and meatpackers have stepped up their recruiting in Puerto Rico in an effort to find US workers. Puerto Rico's economy has been hurt by the closure of drug manufacturing plants, which employ 20,000 workers and account for a quarter of the island's economy and produce 13 of the 20 best-selling US drugs. IRS Section 936, which gave drug companies tax credits for hiring Puerto Ricans, expired in 2006.

Barry Smith, "More inspectors for migrant housing funded by state," Burlington Times News, November 10, 2007.

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