N.C. sweet potato farmworkers win back wages and union rights
If you’ve enjoyed a sweet potato recently, chances are it was harvested in North Carolina by migrant farmworkers, who supply nearly half of all sweet potatoes in the U.S. Although the state’s minimum wage is currently $7.25, the workers who produce vegetables are paid piece rates that fall well below the minimum wage.
In 2014, four farmworkers at Birch Farms filed a lawsuit against their employer for widespread wage theft and other labor law violations. With help from the AFL-CIO’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the workers negotiated a settlement that included over $7,000 in payouts to the four plaintiffs, remunerations for the rest of the workers and a three-year collective bargaining contract. Birch Farms paid over $200,000.
As part of the settlement, the workers won a 3-year collective bargaining contract which includes: just-cause termination, a pay raise to $10.72, a mechanism to file grievances through FLOC, and the right to be a union member and collectively bargain.