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Nash County Migrant Workers Taking a Stand

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NASHVILLE — Migrant workers in Nash County are getting fed up with what they call horrible working and living conditions. Instead of hired help, they claim they're treated almost like slaves, and they're taking a stand to bring their stories to everyone from other field workers to the governor's office.

The Carson Barnes farm is situated in southern Nash County. No one complains about the sweet potatos, tobacco or cucumbers grown there, but some who work on the farm say their living conditions are considerably less than desirable.

Migrant worker Alfredo Reyes and a friend hauled a soiled mattress from the farm all the way to the governor's office in Raleigh to prove their point.

Through an interpreter, Reyes told WRAL's Len Besthoff that he doesn't know what it's like to sleep on such a mattress because he chose to sleep on a pile of cardboard he cut up to use as a bed instead.

The Coalition in Support of Agricultural Workers says the filthy conditions at the Barnes farm are just the beginning. The union also contends that workers from other farms are subject to irregular working hours, threats and intimidation.

"Workers all over the place [are] getting cut, getting hurt, and the growers [are] not taking them to the clinic," said worker Ventura Guitierrez.

This year, about 10,000 Mexicans will work in North Carolina fields during the growing season under a program that allows them to stay in the state for up to nine months. Workers sign contracts to stay with the farmers. In turn, they get pay plus living quarters.

Johnny Barnes, co-owner of the Barnes farm, disputes the union's claims and says they couldn't be further from the truth.

"This is a staged event," said Barnes. "We've not received the first complaint from any farm worker on our farm this year. Furthermore, the North Carolina Growers Association has a toll-free number available for them to call. They've not received the first complaint concerning our farming operation this year."

Many of the workers have returned year after year and some even get health insurance while employed, but the group trying to organize workers says it's continuing with its campaign and is trying to "free" the workers from the farm camps.

So far, they say, they've freed about 100 workers. Farm owners say that those who leave the farms become illegal aliens.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Ron Pittman, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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