Commentary, News

With Thanksgiving season upon us, here’s a great event worth supporting this weekend:

Triangle Community, Farmworkers to Protest Publix, Calling on Retailer to Join White House-Backed Human Rights Program
As Publix rapidly expands throughout North Carolina, farmworkers and consumers demand an expansion of the supermarket giant’s commitment to human rights of farmworkers in their supply chain

On Sunday, November 8, at 2 pm, scores of Triangle area community members will gather with farmworkers of the internationally-recognized the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for a protest at the Publix in Cary. They will demand that the Florida-based grocer support the human rights of farmworkers by joining the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking collaboration that has won the praise of human rights observers from the White House to the United Nations for its unique success in addressing decades-old farm labor abuses at the heart of the nation’s trillion-dollar food industry. Since Publix began expanding their stores into the Tar Heel State, North Carolinians have been demanding that Publix end its six-year refusal to be part of this transformative solution to decades of farmworker exploitation, most recently holding a lively picket outside of a store in Asheville this past Sunday and another action at a Charlotte Publix yesterday. This coming Sunday’s protest comes a few days after Wednesday’s free screening of the film “Food Chains” at the Raleigh Grande Theater, which focuses on the work of the CIW, exploring the exploitation of farm workers in the agriculture industry in the United States, the complicity of corporations in perpetuating human rights abuses, and the role consumers can play in working for justice.

What: Large and lively picket at Publix
When: Sunday, November 8, at 2 pm
Where: Outside of the Publix at 1020 Bradford Plaza Way, Cary
Why: Farmworkers and consumers will call on Publix to join the Fair Food Program, a social responsibility program to ensure respect for basic human rights for farmworkers in its tomato supply chain.

After decades, the CIW has fundamentally transformed the Florida tomato industry through the Fair Food Program (FFP), an historic partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and 14 multi-billion dollar tomato retailers, such as McDonald’s and Walmart. This past summer, the Fair Food Program began to expand into tomato fields up the east coast through New Jersey, including North Carolina. Participating companies require more humane labor standards from their tomato suppliers and pay one penny more per pound to improve workers’ pay, agreeing to buy only from tomato growers that are part of the Program. The FFP is ensuring human rights protections for tens of thousands of farmworkers, including required shade and water, other critical health and safety protections, and a zero tolerance policy for slavery and sexual violence. Since 2011, nearly $20 million has been distributed to farmworkers’ paychecks through the penny-per-pound premium. The Fair Food Program was heralded in the New York Times as “the best workplace monitoring program … in the US” and “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in the Washington Post.

Commentary, News

The good people at OxFam America are out with a new and disturbing report that highlights the poor treatment of poultry workers — many of them here in North Carolina. This is from the introduction to “Lives on the line: The human cost of cheap chicken”:

OxFam report“Chicken is the most popular meat in America , and the poultry industry is booming. Profits are climbing, consumer demand is growing, and executive compensation is increasing rapidly.

But one element remains trapped at the bottom: the workers on the poultry processing line. Poultry workers 1) earn low wages of diminishing value, 2) suffer elevated rates of injury and illness, and 3) often experience a climate of fear in the workplace.

These problems affect the entire industry, but the top four chicken companies control roughly 60 percent of the domestic market: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. As industry leaders, these companies can and should implement changes that will improve conditions for poultry workers across the country.

The full report explores industry history and trends in consumption, documents the realities and challenges of life working on the line, and offers concrete recommendations to improve conditions.

The immersive website, Lives on the Line, uses multimedia to convey the experiences of workers inside the poultry plant.”

If you can stomach all the images and stories, you’ll find it hard not to conclude that the industry is, on the whole, anything but an exploitative mess.

As the Farmworker Advocacy Network reports:

“There are approximately 28,000 poultry processing workers in North Carolina, who are predominantly people of color and immigrants with a significant number of women. In order to process the chicken that ends up in our grocery stores and our restaurants, they earn poverty level wages, suffer injuries and illnesses at high rates and endure a climate of fear that makes it difficult for them to speak out against these conditions.”

Click here to read an eight page summary.

Click here to read the entire report.

Click here to check out a multimedia website.


A new report from the Economic Policy Institute compares the economic outcomes of three groups of Mexican immigrants working in the U.S.: legal permanent residents (LPRs), unauthorized workers, and H-2A and H-2B temporary visa workers. There are two federal visas that allow employers to import unskilled, foreign workers on a temporary basis: the H-2A visa for agricultural workers and the H-2B visa for other unskilled labor, such as seafood processing, landscaping and housekeeping. The report, “Authorized Workers, Limited Returns: The Labor Market Outcomes of Temporary Mexican Workers,” finds that although H-2A and H-2B workers are lawfully present, their legal status does not give them an advantage over unauthorized workers. Both groups are paid very low wages and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse on the job. The author concludes:

“The results of these analyses point toward the need for reforming U.S. temporary foreign worker programs. If temporary foreign worker programs are to be a viable alternative to unauthorized immigration, temporary work visas must appeal to potential unauthorized immigrants and must reduce the risk of abuse that workers in these programs encounter. Currently, visa restrictions tying temporary foreign workers to a single employer undermine the economic opportunities available to these workers.”

Changing the H-2 visas so that employees could freely move from one employer to another would greatly increase their bargaining power and ultimately improve wages and working conditions, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem likely to happen. A new comprehensive rule for the H-2B program published by the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) adds critical worker protections, but there is no mention of visa portability. Nor is there any indication from DOL that it intends to modify the H-2A visa any time soon.

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The North Carolina House passed a bill Wednesday with the misleadingly simple title of “Property Protection Act.” The bill has also come to be referred to as the “ag gag” bill because it is widely understood to be targeted at silencing those who would record and publicize disturbing images or sounds from facilities used to raise and/or slaughter and process animals.

Under the bill, employers can sue any person (including employees) who gain access to “nonpublic areas” of their premises and who then, without authorization, record images or sounds and then use those recordings to breach their “duty of loyalty to the employer.”

Defenders of the bill, which included widely respected progressives like Rep. Rick Glazier, argued forcefully that the language of the bill is drawn in a very narrow fashion so as to protect whistle blowers and others who would expose wrongdoing or illegal activity. And indeed, the proposal includes references (both direct and indirect) to numerous anti-retaliation statutes and includes none of the criminal penalties that were present in previous “ag gag” proposals.

It’s also easy to envision compelling scenarios in which employers would be rightfully aggrieved at the idea of employees secretly recording and posting to the Internet the contents of, say, staff meetings or private strategy sessions.

That said, the bill as written still raises serious and nagging questions about freedom of speech and the public’s right to know important information. For instance, it appears that under the terms of the bill, an employee who becomes aware of inhumane or unsanitary (but not necessarily illegal) food preparation practices could be sued, silenced and ordered to pay damages if she recorded a video of such practices on her phone and publicized the recording. Similarly, an office worker who, for instance, records and publicizes the fact that his boss keeps a noose in his office along with some racist posters and literature would appear to be potentially liable for damages. Read More


A grand jury in Greensboro last week handed down a 41 count indictment against the owner and operator of a firm that brings in foreign workers for temporary agricultural and non-skilled jobs in North Carolina and around the Southeast.  According to WRAL, the indictment charges Craig Stanford Eury and Sarah Farrell of International Labor Management Corp. with submitting fraudulent visa applications in an attempt to evade caps on the number of workers who can enter the country on H-2B visas and moving workers on agricultural H-2A visas into non-agricultural H-2B positions.

Much has been written about the problems with the H-2B and H-2B programs.  The Southern Poverty Law Center’s seminal report, Close to Slavery, details the exploitation at the heart of a “guestworker” system which ties workers to a single employer and provides no way for them, many of whom leave families year after year to perform thankless work in the U.S., to ever create a permanent home here.  The unfair treatment of U.S. workers who don’t get a fair shake at these jobs are described in Farmworker Justice’s No Way to Treat a Guest.  Hopefully those messages will not get lost in stories about an indictment that focuses on sleight of hand tactics to game a system that is, at its core, patently unfair to the workers (immigrant and U.S. citizen workers alike) who just want to support themselves and their families.