The North Carolina Justice Center is the leading advocacy and research organization in the state focused on a wide range of issues that impact low- and moderate-income North Carolinians. The organization was founded in 1996 through the merger of two former Legal Services organizations. Our mission is to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household in the state has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security. To that end, we work toward the following goals: consumer protections from abusive practices; safe and affordable housing; excellent public education for every child; access to quality and affordable health care; fair treatment for everyone in North Carolina, including immigrants and refugees; jobs that are safe, pay a living wage, and provide benefits; public investments that expand opportunities for economic security; and a fair and stable revenue system that adequately funds public investments while fairly distributing tax responsibility.
The Workers’ Rights Project, one of the Justice Center’s seven projects, strives to enforce and expand policies that ensure safe workplaces, fair treatment, a living wage, and a strong safety net in times of hardship on behalf of all workers in North Carolina. Much of the Workers’ Rights Project’s litigation has focused on the rights of farmworkers and other migrant workers.
THE CASE: We are preparing to file a class action case on behalf of a group of H-2A workers from Mexico who worked for an H-2A labor contractor in Florida and eastern North Carolina. The H-2A visa program allows employers who are granted permission by the U.S. Department of Labor to import foreign workers to fill temporary agricultural jobs. North Carolina agricultural growers have been the leading user of the H-2A program – bringing in more than 10,000 visa workers each year. Over the last few years we have observed a growing number of labor contractors, as opposed to growers, bringing H-2A workers to the state because growers see hiring workers through an H-2A labor contractor as a way to save money and insulate themselves from liability. The problems that H-2A workers have historically faced—wage theft, poor housing conditions, not being reimbursed for their visa and transportation costs, exposure to pesticides and illegal deductions from their pay—are exacerbated for employees of labor contractors as labor contractors are more unsophisticated and undercapitalized. Our complaint alleges violations of the H-2A contract, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act and Florida’s minimum wage law. Our goal through this class action and subsequent litigation we hope to undertake against H-2A labor contractors is to stop the trend towards using H-2A labor contractors by holding both growers and contractors jointly liable to workers when there is a violation.
Contact: Carlene McNulty, Litigation Director, North Carolina Justice Center, 224 S. Dawson Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.