The House Agriculture Committee voted to remove a controversial section of the Farm Act involving whistleblower complaints today, but that portion could still be reinstated later.
Rep. Nasif Majeed, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, successfully amended the bill to strike that provision from Senate Bill 605.
It would have directed the Department of Labor, when dismissing worker retaliation complaints, to issue right-to-sue letters with the caveat its investigation showed the allegations were unfounded. The letters would go to both the employees and the employer.
This is important because workers can use these right-to-sue letters to independently file lawsuits against their employers. With that new required wording from the Labor Department, it could have dissuaded workers from suing and have given the employer the upper hand.
The Labor Department is notorious for finding working complaints are baseless. In the past 10 years, the Labor Department records show it investigated 2,154 complaints and found only 217 had merit.
The provision would have applied to not only farm workers but all employees.
“I’m disappointed,” said Sen. Brent Jackson after the committee vote. As the bill sponsor, Jackson was present for the discussion. A farm owner, Jackson himself has been the subject of whistleblower complaints.
Facing opposition from worker rights advocates and many Democrats, Jackson had already softened the language from its original version. That language did not require the Labor Department to send a right-to-sue letter at all.
After Jackson tweaked the wording, the full Senate had passed the bill 28-21. The bill as amended now goes to the House Rules committee. It will eventually circle back to the Senate for concurrence.
This legislation also supports the proliferation of biogas systems, whose methane would be captured from industrialized hog farms and then injected into natural gas pipelines. Biogas has also faced staunch opposition from environmental groups and neighbors of these farms over concerns about air and water pollution, as well as environmental justice issues.