A NC State Senator Cheated Farm Workers from Mexico. This Is What Happened Next

“I believed working in America would be better, that it would be worth it, even as I left my family behind. It wasn’t,” said Constantino Sanchez Rodriguez.

The man on the other end of the phone line was Constantino Sanchez Rodriguez, who talked by cell phone from his home in Tlaxcala , a rural town in central Mexico a few hour southeast of Mexico City.

Other voices could be heard in the background. Constantino had spent the day picking broccoli, onions and cauliflower and earned about $7.50, but at least he had water to drink and hadn’t been cheated on his pay.

In February this year, Constantino and six others from his town in Mexico filed a lawsuit in North Carolina against Jackson Farming Company. The lawsuit alleges the Jackson family abused its workers and cheated them by shortchanging their pay from June 11 last year to the end of October. Constantino and his colleagues came to the United States legally under the H-2A “guestworker” program.

The Jackson Farming Company is owned by North Carolina State Senator Brent Jackson, a powerful Republican who represents Duplin County, Sampson County and parts of Johnston County. He is vice chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

It gets worse.

Jackson failed to provide basic sanitation — like bathrooms — for Constantino and his coworkers. The workers had no water to drink, even in the hottest weather. Nor did Jackson follow other basic federal labor standards, alleges the class action lawsuit filed in District Court in North Carolina.

And still worse.

Anyone who’s familiar with the work of guest farmworkers might tell you that abuse like this is par for the course, as shameful as that may be. But this case is special, because Constantino has been blacklisted since filing the lawsuit.

This year, when Constantino applied to the recruiter, he was told he’d never work in the United States again. He has been outlawed by one of North Carolina’s most powerful politicians… for following the law.

What Constantino wants is simple.

“I want a better future for my family. I want to raise my children so they can look after me when I’m old. I would like to go back to work to the U.S. but I want to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.

Every year, thousands of migrant farmworkers flock to North Carolina to plant, cultivate, weed, harvest, package and ship sweet potatoes, melons, broccoli, cucumbers, tobacco and other agriculture products.

About 10,000 H2A workers in North Carolina are covered by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s union contract. The contract has a strong grievance procedure, and FLOC has a strong history of using its provisions to help win cases against bad farmers who abuse workers.

Want to help? Follow this link to support FLOC.

Until last year, the Jackson Farming Company had been part of the North Carolina Grower’s Association, which meant Constantino and his coworkers were covered by the FLOC contract. Jackson has since left the association.

Constantino says farm work is hard. But if paid fairly and treated decently, it’s worth doing. A few more seasons of work could allow Constantino to invest in land and cattle. His dream is to start a small herd.

Today, he’s deflated.

“I was cheated. And because I stood up for what’s right, I’m worse off than I was before,” he said.

By Gonzalo Salvador and Robert Struckman