State News

Lawmakers Give Final Approval to Migrant Housing Standards Bill

Posted July 19, 2007 7:12 p.m. EDT
Updated July 20, 2007 5:15 p.m. EDT

@NCCapitol

— North Carolina's migrant farm workers would be guaranteed mattresses at labor camps and inspectors would more closely review conditions at camps with reported problems under a bill given final approval Thursday at the state Legislature.

The Senate unanimously agreed to changes the House made to the bill, which would allow fewer inspections at the state's 1,300 registered labor camps that consistently exceed standards, known as Gold Star farms. The legislation now goes to Gov. Mike Easley.

Current standards enable some camps to allow 15 farmworkers to share a toilet or an outhouse, while some isolated labor camps have no transportation. Some camps offer only cardboard for mattresses -- or no mattresses at all on the bed frame.

"At the end of the day, they will have a mattress with a cover to sleep on," Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, told senators on the chamber floor. "It's a great step for common decency."

The bill would require farms that host migrant workers to register with the Department of Labor at least 45 days before the labor camp is expected to be occupied. Department officials would inspect camps to "ensure safe and healthy migrant housing conditions" and issue a certificate for their use.

If a farm was not 100 percent compliant during the preoccupancy inspection, or if credible allegations about substandard conditions are received, inspectors also would visit the camp after migrant workers leave.

Broader changes were considered in 2005, but the legislation didn't pass after opponents, including state Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, said upgrades would be too expensive for farmers.