A newly published research study conducted by the Center for Worker Health at Wake Forest University found violations in North Carolina migrant housing. The paper, published in the March edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, reveals several violations of the North Carolina Migrant Housing Act at the 183 labor camps that were inspected.
It is the largest and most comprehensive study of farmworker housing in the southeastern United States. (Previous reports on N.C. labor camp conditions include A state of fear: Human rights abuses in North Carolina’s tobacco industry, produced by OxFam America and the Farmworker Labor Organizing Committee.)
The Wake Forest University research revealed prominent violations such as infestations of roaches, mice and rats; non-working toilets and showers; contaminated drinking water; and lack of fire safety equipment and smoke alarms.
“Housing of migrant farmworkers has historically been an issue of both safety and justice. That’s why we looked at it,” says Dr. Thomas A. Arcury. “This paper examined the compliance of specific regulations that applied to migrant housing. What we saw was wide non-compliance with current migrant housing regulations.”
The North Carolina Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing migrant housing law. Farmworker advocates from the NC Justice Center, Farmworker Advocacy Network and Toxic Free NC will finally meet with NCDOL Commissioner Cherie Berry on April 3, after ten years of requesting a formal meeting. They plan to discuss the findings of the report. Berry is up for reelection this year.
Arcury will also attend the meeting to present his findings. A public health scientist, his main research focuses on the N.C. farmworker demographic. He says not only must the compliance of existing regulations be enforced, but those regulations need to also be evaluated.
He cites an example in restroom conditions. According to current regulations, one shower head per 10 workers and three toilets per 15 workers, without a privacy wall in between, are considered in compliance.
“I would argue it’s not, from an occupational justice perspective,” he says.
Arcury conducted the first epidemiological study on green tobacco sickness and its effect on farmworkers in 1998. Other Wake Forest University studies this year include research on the nutrition of farmworker children and pesticide exposure in the fields.