Commentary

HB2 threatens half billion dollar hit to NC economy

As the headlines pile up announcing business opposition to the pro-discrimination legislation HB2, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the law is placing North Carolina’s economy in jeopardy.

In fact, a recent report from the Center for American Progress finds that HB2 threatens $567 million in economic activity from just the companies that have announced they are canceling or reconsidering investment in the state, the tourism dollars lost due to canceled conventions, and entertainers like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr canceling events in North Carolina.

Even more troubling, this total doesn’t include all the potential economic development projects that won’t happen but no one hears about as companies quietly write North Carolina off their list of possible locations for expansion. And it doesn’t include the $20 billion in federal aid that could be lost if it turns out that HB2 runs afoul of federal anti-discrimination laws.

According to the report, here’s a list of all the losses and pending losses to the state’s economy happening as a direct result of HB2:

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Commentary

McCrory HB2 executive order fails to live up to the hype

Governor McCrory announced an Executive Order yesterday that claims to fix some of the problems with HB2 but in reality fails to live up to the hype.

Despite vociferous criticism of HB2 from businesses owners and citizens across the state, the Governor’s new Executive Order essentially reinforces many of the bill’s most objectionable provisions, while offering up insufficient opportunities to improve it. In short the executive order maintains HB2’s provisions restricting transgender access to bathrooms in public accommodations, allowing local businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and prohibiting local governments from enacting anti-discrimination or living wage ordinances that cover private businesses, including public contractors.

And unfortunately, the few steps away from discrimination taken by the order—notably, stating a policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for state government employees and calling on the General Assembly to restore state employment non-discrimination protections for private sector workers—are practically nonexistent.

This what the executive order means in practice for North Carolina’s residents:

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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.

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Commentary

Preemption bill reduces freedom, hurts the economy

Now that we’ve had a few hours to digest the General Assembly’s newly proposed preemption bill, it looks even worse than we originally thought, representing a full-frontal assault on anti-discrimination protections in North Carolina. Not only does the bill ban local governments from prohibiting discrimination by private businesses, it sharply reduces their ability to raise wages and—shockingly—eliminates the rights of workers to sue their employer if they’re fired for a discriminatory reason.

The bill takes crucial freedoms away from our local communities and will almost certainly damage the state’s economy.

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Commentary

Some uncomfortable questions about Eden’s looming brewery closure

State Senate Leader Phil Berger has some questions about the news that MillerCoors is going to close its long-time facility in Eden, Rockingham County, laying off 520 people in the process. Last night, he and fellow Rockingham legislator Bert Jones sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights with a list of questions they urged the panel to pursue in an effort to determine whether the Eden brewery closure falls afoul of federal anti-monopoly regulations.

The Senator’s efforts are admirable given the enormously negative impact the plant’s closure would have on the rural community, which already has one of the state’s highest unemployment rates. And we sincerely hope that the brewery remains open, staving off the kind of mass layoffs that proved so disastrous to the human and economic fabric in rural communities like Kannapolis.

But after years of watching the legislature systematically dismantle the very state investments that protect jobless workers and promote community resiliency in times of high unemployment, workers in Rockingham and across North Carolina have some questions for Senator Berger as well:

  1. Why should Rockingham workers lose their unemployment benefits if they can’t find a job after 12 weeks ? If the brewery closes, 520 workers will lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Given that there are already twice as many unemployed workers as available job openings in Rockingham County (according to NCWorks), it will be mathematically very difficult for most these laid off workers to find new jobs. Thanks to the policies enacted by the General Assembly in 2013, Rockingham County workers will only have 12 weeks to find a job before they lose their unemployment benefits—the lowest duration offered for temporary wage replacement in the nation.
  1. Why should these laid off workers in Rockingham County lose food assistance after just three months if they can’t find employment in a job market without enough jobs? Since welfare reform in 1990s, the federal government has required able-bodied adults with no dependents to find a job, be engaged in skills training, or participate in other qualifying activities after three months of receiving food assistance or lose this assistance altogether. At the same time, federal law allows states to request waivers from this time limit in economically distressed counties where jobs are not available. Unfortunately, the General Assembly banned the state from offering this waiver in 2015, despite the 77 counties that qualified due to weak labor markets. In effect this move will significantly reduce access to food assistance for workers living in those counties, including Rockingham, after July 1 when the prohibition goes into effect.

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