Seven former workers at Jackson Farming Company, the Sampson County farm owned by State Senator Brent Jackson, have filed a lawsuit in federal court against the farm, Jackson, and his son Rodney alleging gross violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act, and are seeking unpaid wages and damages.
Former worker José Alberto Aguilera-Hernandez says that Rodney Jackson confronted him on October 27, 2015, demanding that he pay $2,400 to replace a gas pump piece broken during a workplace accident. Aguilera-Hernandez refused, was fired on the spot, and was forced to leave the farm.
Jackson then withheld back wages from the previous week's work. Aguilera-Hernandez, a worker on an H2A visa from Mexico, was forced to solicit help from a local storeowner to get back home. The plaintiffs in the case say that farm employees threatened them to try to get them to drop the lawsuit, and after they went forward, were refused employment. With the way the H2A program works, Farm Labor Organizing Committee spokeswoman Briana Kemp says, the worker has to be formally requested by a grower in order to be brought to work in the U.S.
"I couldn’t believe he would treat another human being this way," Aguilera-Hernandez said in a statement. "He knows I don’t know anyone here and don’t have any way of finding a place to stay or a way home."
The Jackson Farming Company was previously a member of the North Carolina Growers' Association, who has a union contract with FLOC. In 2014, union members filed a grievance against Jackson for "manipulating hours and underpaying workers." According to FLOC, over twenty workers received hundreds of dollars in back pay as a result of that settlement, but Jackson left the NCGA last year, FLOC says, to "avoid further scrutiny from the union, and continue illegal practices."
According to Kemp, out of 100,000 workers in North Carolina, only around 7,000 work for NCGA growers under contract with the FLOC.
Jackson, a Republican representing all of Duplin County and part of Johnston County in addition to all of Sampson County, is a farmer by trade, and one of the more powerful legislators on agriculture in the entire General Assembly. He is a vice chairman of the Senate's Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee
"People that work at the farm are scared for their job; that is why no one ever complains," Aguilera-Hernandez said in the statement. "Now, I will do anything I can to make sure this grower doesn’t get away with this and that he changes the way he treats people."