Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Farmers suck

Farmers avoid migrants' union contract
Growers look outside of N.C. association to find workers
Kristin Collins
The News & Observer

Two years ago, a labor union swept into farm country, promising big changes for the migrant workers who tend and harvest many of North Carolina's crops.

Now, the agreement that unionized thousands of Mexican field hands is in danger of collapse. Many farmers in this, the state with the nation's lowest rate of unionization, simply aren't willing to abide an organized work force.

"This is a right-to-work state, and people shouldn't be forced to hire union labor," said Larry Wooten, president of the N.C. Farm Bureau, a trade group that is helping farmers find nonunion labor.

The agreement, signed in September 2004, compelled the approximately 1,000 farmers who hired legal seasonal workers through the N.C. Growers Association to use unionized employees. The association agreed to recognize a union, the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, allowing workers to file grievances and demand benefits.

At that time, the association brought in about 10,000 seasonal workers each year -- nearly all the state's legal migrant workers. But in the two growing seasons since the agreement, farmers have abandoned the association in droves.

Some have found other ways to get legal workers, while others have opted to use the illegal immigrants who make up the vast majority of the state's approximately 80,000 seasonal laborers.

This year, the association is down to about 500 farmers and will bring in only about 5,000 workers, director Stan Eury said. He said that if membership dips below 350 farmers, the association probably will shut down.


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