2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, Commentary

Budget cuts workplace safety inspectors, puts workers at risk

Every worker deserves a safe workplace where their lives and health are protected. Unfortunately, a small provision in the joint budget does just the opposite—it puts workers at risk by weakening the ability of the Department of Labor to enforce the state’s occupational safety laws.

Specifically, the joint budget adopts a House recommendation to eliminate two inspector positions at the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) division. This measure could not be more ill-timed—137 workers died on the job in 2014, up from 109 the year before. And already in 2016, the US Department of Labor has reported 30 fatalities so far this year at the workplaces the agency was able to inspect. And the death toll is likely much higher, as the count only includes those workplaces the Labor Department is able to inspect.

Tellingly, the budget notes that NCDOL eliminated these positions specifically because they remained unfilled for two years—which supposedly suggests that they were unnecessary. But this is not a reasonable explanation, given the rising number of workplace fatalities. Rather, it appears much more likely that the Secretary of Labor, Cherie Berry, has proven as lax in enforcing state occupational health and safety laws as she has in enforcing wage theft laws.

Workplace deaths are unacceptable. Both the General Assembly and Secretary Berry need to reverse course and support the hiring of more OSH inspectors, not fewer.

 

Carol Brooke contributed to this report.

2016 Fiscal Year State Budget

Budget takes one step forward, two steps back on job training

North Carolina’s workers have been waiting for weeks to see how state legislators would address their needs, and now that the wait is over, they’re getting very little besides bad news. Not only does the compromise budget eliminate workplace health and safety inspectors at the NC Department of Labor, it also represents a missed opportunity for reinvesting in the state’s job training and workforce development system after years of cutbacks. This startling lack of investment is due largely to recent rounds of tax cuts that will reduce state revenues by as much as $2 billion in future years.

First, the good news: the budget strengthens state support for apprenticeship programs that allow participating workers to receive occupational job training from local community colleges while working for a participating employer. These programs provide workers with classroom instruction and on-the-job training on the way to earning an associates’ degree or a recognized occupational credential—and they have proven to be effective at ensuring workers get the training they need and securing job placement when they finish.

Specifically, the budget allocates $500,000 in state funding to support the administration and curriculum development of these programs and $110,000 in tuition waivers for students participating in apprenticeship programs. In effect, the tuition waivers reduce or eliminate the cost of enrollment for participating students.

But while the budget takes a step forward with apprenticeships, it takes two steps back in other areas of workforce development. After years of shortchanging community colleges and an enormously complex administrative overhaul of the state’s workforce development system, the budget does almost nothing to put these economically essential programs back on a path to success.

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Commentary

Will House move to eliminate minimum wage and overtime protections for seasonal workers?

In a surprise move yesterday, the House Finance Committee voted to eliminate state minimum wage and overtime protections for certain seasonal workers and amusement park employees. But a glimmer of hope remains for workers after key Republicans on the panel pledged to address concerns over the minimum wage and the bill was kept off the House calendar for today.

As WRAL reported yesterday, the Committee debated a proposed committee substitute for SB 363, legislation that originally regulated food carts but was stripped and replaced by entirely new language that changed the state’s wage and hour laws for certain seasonal employees. Under the new version considered by the committee, employees of seasonal camps and amusement parks would no longer be eligible for minimum wage and overtime protections under North Carolina’s Wage and Hour Act—likely a response to the US Department of Labor’s recent announcement raising the eligibility of salaried overtime workers  from those earning $23,660 to $47,476 per year.

And since these workers are already exempted from federal protections—a loophole in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act created specifically to benefit circus operator Barnum & Bailey—the proposed change in the state’s law effectively ensures that these workers will no longer have any legal entitlement to earn a minimum wage or overtime.

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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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