North Carolina's legislature has been taken over by the tea party contingent, and I think they continue to make clear what has been obvious for a long time. Free markets are for the poor and weak. The rich require a nanny state.
Floc is an organization that attempts to unionize migrant farm workers. As you can imagine this is a bit difficult because of the transient nature of the work. A worker may want to join a union, but he may not be back next year. How do you develop an organization that represents changing populations?
A further problem is that you can't just get workers at a single farm to join a union because as soon as you improve the compensation for workers the farmer is probably going to need to pass those costs on to the companies that buy his products. RJ Reynolds buying tobacco is an example. If one farmer wants to treat his employees decent, how is he supposed to compete with others that don't?
But nobody needs a union more urgently than migrant workers. These people are getting paid minimum wage with no benefits to live in rat infested, cockroach infested shanties. See this report from Oxfam documenting some of the abuses in N Carolina. To improve that situation they obviously need a stronger bargaining position in the face of their employer. RJ Reynolds does not directly employ them, but in the end Reynolds is the key in determining the share of revenue generated that goes to capital and the share that goes to labor.
Baldemar Velasquez, President of Floc, understands this. He understands that punishing farmers is not the answer. His idea was pretty simple. Go straight to Reynolds. They must require all of the farms in their supply chain to be part of a union. Yeah, we get it that they think they are washing their hands of responsibility when they say that they don't employ migrant workers directly. But we're not buying it because they have the power to make this situation right. In fact this is the only way. If it's the only way to make it right, and they have the power to do it, they have a moral obligation to do it. So we're just going to shame them into doing it.
I met a migrant worker this weekend that sprays his bed with Raid every night before going to sleep because of the bed bugs and cock roaches. A man with no health care sleeps in toxic fumes, just so the roaches don't keep him awake and prevent him from harvesting crops. And there's thousands more just like him all over the country. We can create an organization that gives that man the power to demand something better. It's a no brainer.
Well, suppose you're a right winger and you don't want to see a union be successful. You should still regard it as acceptable that the market should dictate. The free market allows us to shame Reynolds. They don't have to listen. The free market says they can sign a contract that compels all their farms to be under a union rubric, or they can choose to not sign that contract. Let the market decide, right? Floc has succeeded with this model before. Campbells Soup and Mt. Olive Pickle. The strategy works and involved no government compulsion. Also, just for the record, the Wagner Act, which gives ordinary people the right to organize without reprisal, doesn't apply to the agricultural industry. So this is really about as close as you can get a free contract.
The Tea Party should be fine with it. But the Tea Party North Carolina legislature is not. HB 74 will make it illegal for a corporation to compel members of it's supply chain to have workers represented by a union. It's not enough that workers are barely organized now. They need the nanny state to come in and prevent even the possibility of organizing. Such is their commitment to the free market.