Commentary

Last week was great for workers, just not here

Last week was great for workers—if you live in California or New York. Not so much for workers here in North Carolina.

Starting with wages, California and New York just put more than 60 million workers into the $15 an hour minimum wage economy, joining 24 other states with minimum wages higher than the Federal minimum wage.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo just signed into law a measure raising the state’s minimum wage to well above the current Federal level of $7.25 an hour. In an innovative step to address business concerns, the plan phased in minimum wage increases over time, creating faster timetables in economically booming areas of the state and slower phase-ins for struggling rural areas of the state. Workers will see their wage floor rise to $15 an hour by 2019 in New York City and by 2022 in neighboring Long Island and Westchester County. The state’s rural counties will raise their minimum wage to $12.50 an hour by 2021 and to $15 an hour over a yet-to-be-established timetable.

Under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown, California passed a straightforward, statewide minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2022. To give businesses time to adapt, the wage floor will increase from $10 an hour to $10.50 an hour next year, and then by a dollar an hour through 2022, and small businesses—those with less than 25 employees have an extra year to meet these wage standards.

Both of these bills recognize that paying workers enough afford the basics is good for the economy. It lets workers earn enough to buy groceries, pay the rent, put gas in the care and the kids in daycare—all of which boosts sales at local businesses. In turn, rising sales mean bigger business profits and more hiring, a virtuous cycle that helps workers and strengthens businesses. And as an added bonus, the staggered phase-in of these wage increases gives these businesses time to adapt.

But the good news for non-Tarheel Worker didn’t stop with a new minimum wage. Both New York State and the City of San Francisco also enacted innovative paid family medical leave policies. In San Francisco, the City now requires that all workers—including same-sex couples— receive six full weeks of job-protected, paid leave to welcome the birth or adoption of a new child. Up to 55 percent of the workers’ wages will be replaced by the state’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, while employers are now expected to contribute the remaining 45 percent.

On April 1, New York State joined California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Washington as the fifth state to enact a paid family medical leave program, allowing millions of workers to receive two-thirds of their monthly income while taking up to 12 weeks paid leave by 2021.

But the good news for workers in other states did not extend to North Carolina. Instead, Tarheel workers learned that their Governor and state legislature killed North Carolina’s 35-year-old basic anti-discrimination protections.

Signed by Governor McCrory last month, the anti-civil rights bill HB2 ended an employee’s private right to sue an employer who fires him or her because of race, religion, gender, or handicap. As a result, this leaves workers who are fired simply because they are black or a female or Christian without any effective protections under state law.

Thanks to HB2, North Carolina will join Mississippi as the only state without any state law protecting private sector employees from workplace discrimination. This law was so extreme that even South Carolina doesn’t see the need for it.

So while 60 million workers in New York and California are celebrating the good news and common sense of lawmaker, Tarheel workers are now living in a state with the same anti-discrimination protections as Mississippi.

And when your state is in the same camp as Mississippi when it comes to civil rights, you know you’re headed in the wrong direction.

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