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Charlotte Observer: NC Chamber needs to end its silence on HB2

Another good editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer [1] highlights a question that observers of the HB2 crisis have been noting for weeks: Where the hell is the NC Chamber? Many people, of course, think the Chamber has cut a cynical deal to stay silent on the LGBT discrimination aspects of the law in order to win a desired end to employment discrimination lawsuits. Here’s the Observer:

“Everyone has an opinion about North Carolina’s House Bill 2 – even Donald Trump [2]. Everyone, that is, except the state’s largest business group.

The North Carolina Chamber says it has 35,000 members who employ 1.26 million N.C. residents. It is widely regarded as the most influential business advocacy group in the state.

Yet with HB 2 roiling the state and particularly its business community, the Chamber and its CEO, Lew Ebert, have remained silent.

Asked this week what the Chamber thinks about HB 2 and whether it will take a public stand, VP of Communications Kate Catlin offered this statement, in part:

‘We run our businesses based on a factual understanding of the challenges we face. The North Carolina Chamber is conducting an analysis of the recently passed law, HB 2.’

That was precisely the same statement the Chamber issued three weeks ago, shortly after the HB 2 backlash ignited. The Chamber, it seems, has made little progress on its analysis in those three weeks.

The group’s silence raises questions about what’s driving it. Is the Chamber’s apparent acquiescence on the anti-LGBT provisions the price it pays for other elements that it’s more passionate about? HB 2 blocked cities from passing minimum-wage laws, a feature the Chamber surely endorses. And it banned employees from filing a state cause of action if they think they were fired due to their race, age, gender or other protected classes in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

Or does the Chamber remain on the sidelines because it more generally doesn’t want to cross a legislative leadership that enacts deep corporate tax cuts, reduces unemployment benefits and passes other business-friendly measures?

There must be some explanation, because the backlash nationally and within the state’s business community demands that the state’s most influential business group weigh in.

That’s why the Raleigh Chamber called for the legislation to be repealed. It’s why the Charlotte Chamber has expressed concern – though it stopped short of calling for an outright repeal. It’s why businesses such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Time Warner Cable, RedHat and dozens of others have expressed their opposition.

Many of those companies are N.C. Chamber members, which suggests a deep split in the membership. Are those companies OK with the Chamber taking a pass? If not, perhaps they should do more to persuade it to speak up or even ultimately leave the organization.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the Indiana legislature blocked or rolled back similar discriminatory measures. They did so backed by a vocal business community. N.C. legislators face less such pressure because the N.C. Chamber is not exerting it.

Why isn’t it? Either the Chamber agrees with the discriminatory intent of HB 2 or it is holding its tongue to preserve its influence with legislators.

Either one is disappointing, and out of step with what many of its biggest members want.”