After a lengthy investigation of labor practices at the family farm of state senator Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, an official with the U.S. Department of Labor told the INDY last week that the farm "was found in violation of recordkeeping, disclosure, and wage statement provisions, as well as violations resulting from failure to pay the minimum prevailing wage under the H-2A regulations."
As a result, Jackson—who is currently embroiled in litigation with seven former guest workers who sued him, his son, and his farm for wage theft and retaliation—was ordered by the DOL to pay twenty-one workers a total of $2,180 in back wages and promise to never do it again.
The INDY has requested records regarding how, exactly, the DOL reached that number, as well as for more information about the nature of the violations. That request has not yet been fulfilled. But considering the history of wage and safety issues at the farm—including the permanent disability of a worker in the late 1990s who suffered a heat stroke and wasn't taken to the hospital—an average of $103.81 for each worker seems paltry.
"We know there's been ongoing violations at that farm, particularly since he got out from under the union agreement," says Farm Labor Organizing Committee vice president Justin Flores, referring to the Jackson Farming Company leaving the North Carolina Growers Association, which has a union agreement with the FLOC, at the end of 2014. "We're hoping that more workers like his decide to come together and request better working conditions and keep growers in compliance with the law through collective bargaining."
Jackson is chairman of the Senate budget committee. In 2013, Jackson was a key player in the passage of HB 74, which eliminated farmworkers' ability to collectively bargain and banned corporations from ensuring fair labor practices from their suppliers. Jackson's legislative office wouldn't comment on the Department of Labor's findings, and a call to the farm went unanswered, as have all of our calls to the farm since we began reporting this story in April ["Crooked Rows, April 28"].
Jackson, who was unopposed for reelection, won his fourth term in office this week.