Weeks after a public commitment to issue a new executive order with sweeping labor protections for vulnerable agricultural workers in the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said they couldn’t follow through, citing pushback from state officials.
The decision was communicated to the N.C. Farmworker Advocacy Network, a coalition of organizations, which has demanded worker safety measures since the start of the pandemic and had been in conversation with state health officials and the governor’s office. It was first reported by Spanish language outlets Enlace Latino NC and Qué Pasa.
“We are told the governor has rescinded his commitment, largely based on pushback from the Department or Labor and (the Department of) Agriculture, which has claimed it is not interested in enforcing these kinds of safety regulations,” said a news release from the coalition. “…The Department of Health and Human Services (said) that such an order would impede progress made between the agencies and companies to ensure cooperation.”
NCFAN denounced these reasons as not being “true or valid,” while Cooper’s office told The News & Observer in an email that disagreement with stakeholders kept the governor from issuing the order.
“Protecting agriculture and meat processing workers is a high priority,” said Dory MacMillan, a spokesperson. “While the governor and public health officials have had success on increasing some safety protocols and outbreak reporting, there remains significant disagreement among growers, state labor officials and workers about overall solutions.”
“These entities must cooperate to protect our workers and their families,” MacMillan said. “The governor and his administration are pushing growers and companies to protect workers and they are still working on the most effective solutions make sure that happens.”
As the coronavirus pandemic dealt a blow to the largely Latino immigrant agricultural workforce in North Carolina’s fields and meat processing plants, organizations sounded alarms for months and urged the state to respond, culminating in a virtual August town hall where the executive order was discussed.
Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein promised cooperation on these concerns and others ahead of November elections. Hundreds of people from Latino and immigrant labor rights organizations attended the town hall.