As reporter Mandy Locke explained in yesterday’s News & Observer, there is new and encouraging progress in the effort to combat worker “misclassification” in North Carolina. That’s the gentle term used to describe the practice whereby unscrupulous employers treat men and women who ought by law to be full-time employees as contractors, thereby denying them all sorts of basic benefits (and the state all sorts of tax dollars) that ought to be paid. Here’s Locke:
“After years of nibbling away at a pervasive labor scheme that cheated vulnerable workers and left honest employers struggling, state officials agreed Wednesday to work side by side with federal officials to combat the problem.
The agreement breaks down long-standing barriers between federal labor officials and leaders at the state Industrial Commission, which was charged last year by Gov. Pat McCrory with coordinating efforts among state agencies to find and crack down on scofflaw employers.
The agreement allows federal officials to share their data and knowledge with North Carolina officials, much as they have with 32 other states working to combat misclassification. Federal officials have agreed to join some of the state’s efforts to investigate certain employers who have been flagged as likely offenders.”
And here is what’s absurdly absent from the story: a single mention of any action by the North Carolina Department of Labor, the state agency charged by our constitution and state statutes with protecting the workers of our state.
Sadly, this is no surprise. As has been reported in this space (and numerous other news outlets) countless times over the past several years, the North Carolina Department of Labor has, under the leadership of the current commissioner, been the place where worker protection laws and enforcement go to die.
The misclassification story is just the latest classic example. Things are so bad when it comes to this basic matter of protecting North Carolina workers from abuse that even the McCrory administration — an institution notorious for doing the bidding of big business on just about any issue that comes before it — could not stand idly by.
And so this critical protection work — somethings that should have been made a top priority of Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry a decade ago — has now fallen to a small and poorly resourced state Industrial Commission. Let’s hope this new effort makes a real difference in cracking down on these abuses, but if it doesn’t, everyone should know the public agency that really dropped the ball.