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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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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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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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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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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