Commentary

North Carolina’s invisible Labor Commissioner

Cherie Berry 2It’s no secret that North Carolina state Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry has been doing the bidding of the state’s employer community for years. If there’s an important issue impacting the well-being of the state’s workers, you can always rest assured that Berry will either be: a) defending/making excuses  for employers or b) AWOL.

This latter description aptly summarizes Berry’s performance (or rather lack thereof) when it comes to the issue so thoroughly described in a recent series of Raleigh’s News & Observer: “Contract the cheat.”

Saturday’s editorial in the N&O neatly summarized the issue and Berry’s ongoing dereliction of her duties:

The best labor contract has always been summarized by the saying: an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

Yet that contract is being violated and tossed aside with a regularity that harks back to the days when children worked in factories, the work week covered six long days and workplace safety was an afterthought. Under pressure from a deep recession and its aftermath, employers are cutting corners by classifying their workers as independent contractors. That switch allows companies to dodge the costs of deducting payroll taxes, avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes and skip out on insuring their employees against injury and job loss.

The practice also is unfair to business competitors who bear the costs of identifying their workers as what they are: employees. Bypassing that requirement puts workers at risk, leaving them uninsured against injury and prone to accruing hefty tax bills, plus penalties and interest, when they don’t pay on time. It also costs the government millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.

Wrongly classifying workers to avoid tax and insurance costs is illegal. It’s also, to a bewildering extent, ignored….

This modern-day return to Dickensian business owners who use dishonest and abusive practices was documented in last week’s exhaustive five-part series in The News & Observer titled: “Contract to Cheat.” The project was a joint effort involving The N&O, The Charlotte Observer, six other McClatchy newspapers, the McClatchy Washington bureau and ProPublica, a nonprofit group specializing in investigative reporting….

Oddly, the one official who seems unmoved by labor law scofflaws is state Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry. Berry, a Republican first elected in 2000, issued no comment on an illegal practice that is costing North Carolina millions of dollars in lost tax revenue. dollars. A Department of Labor spokeswoman declined to make Berry or anyone in the agency available for an interview, saying The News & Observer misunderstood Berry’s role in dealing with labor violations such as improper employee classification. Soon it may be time for a third series on the classification mess. Call it “The Ghost Commissioner.” (Emphasis supplied.)

You got that? The state official with, quite arguably. the greatest responsibility over this enormously important issue can’t even be bothered to comment on a major exposé in one of the state’s leading media outlets. For most public officials, this would be a scandal in and of itself. For Berry, it’s par for the course.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

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