The U.S. Congress began Legal Services Corporation in 1974. Legal Services of North Carolina created a farmworker project a few years later after a study of the North Carolina Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights highlighted the abuses faced by farmworkers in North Carolina and noted the need for legal services to address these abuses.[1] This led to our predecessor office, Farmworker Legal Services of North Carolina (FLSNC), whose early advocacy often centered on debt servitude and peonage cases. Other early cases concerned labor camp conditions that failed to meet minimum standards, workers’ compensation claims, and wage issues.  An active outreach program was developed in which FLSNC staff went to visit farmworkers at the labor camps and to educate farmworkers about their rights. FLSNC brought multiple cases to federal court following the passage of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. §§1801 et seq., a federal statute to protect farmworkers.

FLSNC represented farmworkers in cases involving discrimination, including on behalf of  U.S. workers who believed themselves discriminated against by employers who preferred foreign nationals who worked under temporary visas via the federal H2A program.

Advocacy continued on behalf of farmworkers, both U.S. workers and the increasing number of H2A workers, as the Farmworker Unit (FWU) was created in 1999 within what is now Legal Aid of North Carolina. The FWU litigated on behalf of workers who believed that they had been retaliated against or blacklisted, on behalf of injured workers, and for numerous claims involving wage theft, unlawful recruitment fees, and poor working conditions.

The FWU continues to adapt to provide excellent services to farmworkers as new obstacles and challenges arise. In recent years, we have developed an anti-trafficking initiative that assists survivors of forced or coerced labor in obtaining meaningful remedies.

[1] Where Mules Outrate Men (1979),