Court Sides with Farm Union to Overturn Anti-Union Clause in North Carolina’s Farm Act

Yesterday, Judge Loretta C. Biggs of the Middle District of North Carolina issued a final ruling in Farm Labor Organizing Committee et al. v Roy Cooper et al., declaring that Section 20.5 of North Carolina’s Farm Act violated sections of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and issued a permanent injunction to stop the enforcement of this law.

On November 15, 2017, the plaintiffs, including the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), a union of farmworkers, filed a complaint against North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and others, claiming that Section 20.5 “the Settlement Provision” of the Farm Act was unconstitutional.

One provision at issue bans “agreements by agricultural employers to administer payroll union dues deductions requested by employees ,” known as dues checkoff agreements. Another bars settlement agreements that require an agricultural employer to recognize a union.

The plaintiffs noted how farmers “are among the lowest paid workers in the state” and many live “below the poverty line.” Furthermore, the complaint noted that in North Carolina, farmworkers are mostly excluded from “state minimum wage, overtime, workers’ compensation, and youth employment laws.” The plaintiffs argued that the Farm Act “impose[d] special burdens on protected expression and association by invalidating dues checkoff agreements that would ensure FLOC receives direct contributions authorized by individual members” and “strips rights and privileges from a workforce that is over 90% Latino, over 90% non-citizens, and largely of Mexican descent.” 

The court, focusing on the settlement restriction, agreed with the union and declared that the Farm Act provision violated the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Attorney General Josh Stein was permanently enjoined “from threatening to enforce and/or enforcing the Settlement Provision.” The court noted that the Settlement Provision can be enforced, but cannot be used to prevent a labor union, like the FLOC, from entering and negotiating a settlement agreement. Finally, Attorney General Stein would have to end all prosecutions targeting the violation of this law.

The ruling takes effect immediately. The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.