North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory recently vetoed a bill that would have solved at least some of the labor problems faced by the state’s agriculture industry.
Now, farmers and agricultural organizations are seeking to override the veto.
The North Carolina Farm Bureau said late last week it is working with legislative leaders to persuade members of the General Assembly to reconvene in less than two weeks for override votes.
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They say the matter is urgent because without an override there will be a shortage of workers, which will lead to rotting crops and less produce in grocery stores.
Among the agricultural crops most severely hurt by the veto is blueberry harvest. North Carolina is among the nation’s leaders in blueberry production and without labor, growers will be in serious trouble at harvest time next year.
“With the veto, it’s going to be devastating for our industry and for the majority of the farm industry, period,” said Ralph Carter Jr., a blueberry farmer from Bladen County.
The size of the problem comes into focus on a blueberry farm such as Carter’s, where between 300 and 600 seasonal laborers work the crops on a well-established route that carries them to North Carolina from Florida, and then north to New Jersey and Michigan.
“We’ve got very few local people who will come out and work,” Carter said. “It is hands-on labor. They’re not taking jobs, as the governor thinks. They’re jobs that people will not do, is what it comes down to.”
Getting legislative action to override the veto will be challenging at best. By law, Governor McCrory has to reconvene the legislature to consider veto overrides within 40 days of adjournment, which falls on Sept. 4.
The General Assembly will have to meet then or inform the governor the session would be unnecessary, which requires they send him a petition signed by a majority of both chambers by Aug. 25. If they do that, the legislature could also wait until next year’s short session to take up the override.
McCrory says the veto was intended to help farmers and he contends loopholes in the original bill posed too big a threat to North Carolina’s farm workers to sign.
“This bill was originally designed to help our farmers,” McCrory said, but what was created was a loophole big enough to drive a truck through that many businesses can abuse at the expense of our North Carolina workers.”
North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Steve Troxler thinks the current 90-day exemption isn’t sufficient for most farmers. Growing seasons aren’t limited to 90 days, he notes.
Speaking on behalf of Commissioner Troxler, Brian Long said, “If foreign workers who are in the country legally perceive one state as having more hoops to jump through, they will avoid that state.”
“That could put farmers at risk of not being able to hire sufficient numbers of workers. Ultimately, crops could be left in fields to rot,” Long added.
Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, said, “What the General Assembly of North Carolina needed to do to be helpful — not only for agriculture but for the nation — was to link arms in a bipartisan way and urge Congress and our congressional delegation, Democrats and Republicans, to put pressure on Washington to get the broken immigration problem fixed.”
“If they do that, many of the issues we’re dealing with — E-Verify, driver’s permits, attendance at schools, proper identification, a whole host of other issues — can be corrected,” Wooten said.