Close this search box.

Migrant Worker’s Death on Farm Owned by NCGOP State Sen. Lisa Barnes’ Family Leads to Nearly $190,000 in Fines

Source: WFAE

The Nash County farm owned by the husband of Republican North Carolina State Sen. Lisa Barnes is facing nearly $190,000 in fines from the NC Department of Labor after an investigation found Barnes Farming committed multiple violations that played a role in the heat-related death of a migrant worker from Mexico last year, WFAE reported.

José Arturo Gónzalez Mendoza, 29, of Guanajuato, had been working on the Spring Hope farm (which campaign donation records indicate employs and is “managed” by Lisa Barnes) for less than two weeks when he died in the field on Sept. 5, 2023. 

The NCDOL cited Barnes Farming with a “willful serious violation” and two other “serious” violations, which resulted in a $187,509 fine for the company – the maximum penalty allowed.

The citation said Barnes Farming “failed to implement adequate control measures to prevent employees from experiencing heat-related illnesses.”

In a phone interview with Spring Hope Enterprise, Barnes Farming Corp. CEO Johnny Barnes said the workers should be used to the conditions that led to the death of one of his employees.

“These guys work in this weather all the time,” Barnes said, adding that Gónzalez Mendoza’s death was “terrible timing for everybody.”

He also said that the company investigated the death by interviewing everyone present and found no wrongdoing. While Johnny Barnes might not have discovered any wrongdoing, the NCDOL did.

Findings by the NCDOL highlighted the following issues:

  • Barnes Farming only allowed workers one five-minute break during their six-hour day spent harvesting crops.
  • No shaded or cool areas were provided during those five-minute breaks and instead, workers were forced to sit inside a bus without air-conditioning that was usually parked in a field in direct sunlight.
  • Although a 10-gallon water cooler was available to the workers, no cups were provided. Employees were forced to put their heads under the spigot and open their mouths to get water.
  • There was no standard for administering first aid or calling 911 for workers suffering from heat-related illnesses.

Barnes Farming received a “serious” violation for exposing employees “to a lack of timely medical care.”

According to WFAE, the NCDOL investigation revealed that Gónzalez Mendoza was harvesting sweet potatoes in direct sunlight when he began experiencing heat-related issues – confusion, fatigue, loss of consciousness – before 11 a.m., at which point the heat index had already reached the high 90s. 

Despite Barnes Farming initially saying that a manager had checked on Gónzalez Mendoza and immediately called 911, the investigation showed that managers never called for medical help or provided any aid. It took 50 minutes after Gónzalez Mendoza started showing symptoms for another employee to call 911. He went into cardiac arrest and died in the field before help arrived.

Gónzalez Mendoza was in North Carolina under an H-2A visa for temporary agricultural workers. The state has around 15,000 H-2A visa holders who harvest sweet potatoes, cotton and tobacco, according to WFAE. Currently, no state or federal labor regulations require breaks or any other heat-related safety measures.

The statute the NCDOL said Barnes Farming violated was that it did not provide “a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or were likely to cause death or serious related injury.”

The citation says Barnes Farming agreed “to develop and implement all elements of a heat stress prevention program” as part of an informal settlement in May 2020 – one of a few violations the farm had already been hit with over the past several years.

Barnes Farming has appealed the $187,509 fine.
Gónzalez Mendoza left behind a wife and two children. A GoFundMe organized by Casa Azul de Wilson, a local Latino community nonprofit, raised more than $12,000 for his family.


More Posts