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The Case Farms poultry processing plant in Morganton, North Carolina, began recruiting Guatemalan workers in 1990. Some four hundred Guatemalans, mostly Mayan Indians who had endured campaigns of violence and terror in the country’s highlands during the 1980s, soon formed the core of Case’s Morganton workforce. Within five years, however, the new employees were at the center of plant-wide protests and strikes followed by a unionizing election. In May 1995, a walk-out was organized in response to the firing of three workers who had complained about speed-ups, inadequate bathroom breaks, and unfair supervisors. Through a National Labor Relations Board election in 1995, the striking workers elected to join the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Case Farms fought the results of the election, refusing to sign a contract with the workers’ Local 700.

As part of the Southern Oral History Program’s “Listening for a Change” initiative, labor historian Leon Fink completed twenty interviews with Guatemalan employees of Case Farms during the summer of 1999. Fink’s daughter, Anna, subsequently translated the interviews from the original Spanish and prepared full transcripts. The personal narratives explore the overarching theme of cross-border labor migration, but also explain how these recent immigrants to North Carolina have fought for improved working conditions by building a local labor movement based on their strong church and community networks. Along with the SOHP’s “Listening for a Change” project on Latino immigrants and neighborhood change in Durham, Fink’s interviews in Morganton help to illuminate an emerging theme in contemporary North Carolina history: the role of the new Hispanic workforce in the Old North State.