Commentary, News

Report: North Carolina one of the worst states for workers

The global anti-poverty organization known as OxFam is out with a new report on the best and worst American states in which to work and, sadly but not surprisingly, North Carolina comes in near the bottom.

The OxFam researchers looked at dozens of data points impacting compensation and working conditions and ranked states on such things as wage policies like the state’s minimum wage, worker protection policies like paid sick day rules and protections from sexual harassment, and laws governing the right of workers to organize.

The criteria spelled out in the report were:

Wage policies
Do workers earn a living wage that is sufficient to provide for them and their families? This dimension includes two areas:

  • The ratio of the actual state minimum wage in relation to the “living wage” for a family of four with one wage earner. The living wage figure is from the MIT Living Wage Calculator 1.
  • Whether or not the state allows localities to implement their own minimum wage laws 2.

Worker protection policies
This dimension considers the quality of life for workers, especially women and parents. The policies include:

  • Protections for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding.
  • Mandates for equal pay, pay secrecy, and no salary history.
  • Leave for non-FMLA workers because of less time on the job; leave longer than federal FMLA.
  • Mandate for paid sick leave.
  • Protections around flexible scheduling, reporting pay, split shift pay, advance notice.
  • Protections around sexual harassment.

Right to organize policies
Do workers have the right to organize and sustain a trade union?

  • Does the state have a so-called “Right to Work” law (which suppresses union activity)?
  • Do public employees (teachers, police, firefighters) have rights to collective bargaining and wage negotiation
  • Are project labor agreements for government contracts available?

As the report explains, the federal government has historically taken the most significant action to pass laws that protect workers, but this has changed in recent years as corporations have consolidated their power in Washington.

This, the report says, leaves the job to states, but unfortunately, while some have assumed the mantle, North Carolina has not. OxFam ranks our state 47th in the country. Only Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia fared worse.

The bottom line:  The report is a distressing commentary on how North Carolina treats its people and should be a call to action for state leaders to do much better.


Editorial lauds prosecutor’s message to white supremacists

In this dark era in which the president of the United States coddles and endears himself to white supremacists, one federal official is having none of it. If you get a chance today, be sure to check out the lead editorial in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal, which is entitled “Confronting the evil.” In it, the authors quote extensively from a recent press statement issued by a U.S. attorney from Ohio as he spoke directly to white supremacists while explaining his plans to prosecute a one such individual for transmitting threatening communications via interstate commerce.

As the U.S. attorney, Justin Herdman, put it:

The Constitution protects your right to speak, your right to think and your right to believe. If you want to waste the blessings of liberty by going down a path of hatred and failed ideologies, that is your choice. Democracy allows you to test those ideas in a public forum. If you want to submit your beliefs to the American people and get their reaction, please be our guest.

Keep this in mind, though: thousands and thousands of young Americans already voted with their lives to ensure that this same message of intolerance, death and destruction would not prevail. You can count their ballots by visiting any American cemetery in North Africa, Italy, France or Belgium and tallying the white headstones….

…[Y]ou have a God-given and inalienable right to be on the losing end of this argument. What you don’t have, though, is the right to take out your frustration at failure in the political arena by resorting to violence. You don’t have any right to threaten the lives and well-being of our neighbors. They have an absolute and God-given and inalienable right to live peacefully, to worship as they please, to be free from fear that they may become a target simply because of the color of their skin, the country of their birth or the form of their prayer. Threatening to kill Jewish people, gunning down innocent Latinos on a weekend shopping trip, planning and plotting to perpetrate murders in the name of a nonsense racial theory, sitting to pray with God-fearing people who you execute moments later, those actions don’t make you soldiers, they make you cowards. And law enforcement does not go to war with cowards who break the law; we arrest them and send them to prison.

The men and women of the community are allied with law enforcement, and every single member of law enforcement took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Together, we represent the best of what America has to offer. Our skin is every color you can imagine. Our families come from a hundred different countries and a hundred different faiths. What makes us different doesn’t split us apart, though; those differences are insignificant compared to what is the same about us: We are united in our commitment to each other, our families and our communities.

We are the living embodiment of everything you say is impossible. Together we are united to ensure that you commit no further acts of violence in the name of your beliefs.

Would that the president of the nation were speaking such eloquent words. Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. PW special report: Our wetlands and streams are worth saving. But it’s incredibly hard to do.

The noonday sun is pounding the crowns of our heads as we hopscotch over cow patties and hurdle an electric fence. We make a beeline for a shady copse of sweetgum trees, whose seed pods look like asterisks scattered on the ground. On one side of a small dam, a pond where cattle drink and excrete is the color and consistency of split pea soup. On the other side, invasive bamboo has created an impenetrable thicket, elbowing out native plants.

The Odell Edwards Farm, near the border of Wake and Johnston Counties, was once one of the largest tobacco-growing operations in eastern North Carolina. But as tobacco fell out of favor, the family turned to other crops and livestock. Many neighboring farms did the same, while others sold their family land to developers.

Now here in this patch between Wendell and Clayton, the Odell Edwards family and other long-time family farmers are allowing the state’s Division of Mitigation Services and the engineering firm Water & Land Solutions to install environmental projects to help save their land and the ecosystem. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Environmental test results are in for controversial Aberdeen Elementary School site in Moore County

2. UNC trustees signal they could revisit issue of buildings named for white supremacists

A year ago this month, students and activists toppled “Silent Sam,” the Confederate statue that stood on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill for more than a century.

Now community members and students of North Carolina’s flagship university are taking aim at what they call another historical eyesore: campus buildings named for slave owners and avowed white supremacists.

The school currently has a self-imposed moratorium on renaming buildings, but this week, university and UNC system leaders suggested that it is possible, and even likely, that the issue will be revisited. [Read more…]

3. New school year brings the Right’s war on public education into sharp focus

There was a time in the United States not that many years ago in which K-12 public education was taken as a given – something as fundamental to the health and wellbeing of society as drinking water and law enforcement and public roads.

It may not have always lived up to this ideal (particularly in places where the great evil of racial discrimination and segregation held sway), but it’s fair to say that the American public school classroom was widely understood to be the glue that brought our broadly middle class society together and moved it into the future, the unifying institution that inculcated the fundamental civic values of democracy, and the place where society combated ignorance and superstition and prepared members of the next generation to build a better world.

Tragically, this began to change in the latter part of the 20th Century. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: It’s time to hit the reset button on the privatization of public education

4. Future, past of NC death penalty in focus at state Supreme Court

Death row inmates ask justices for life in prison after racial bias infected their trials

Six North Carolina death row inmates are fighting to to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any possibility of parole and to escape an early death at the hands of an execution team.

Four of them were previously freed from death row after they showed that racial bias played a significant factor in the original imposition of the death penalty in their cases. That reprieve, however, only lasted about three years before Republican lawmakers put them “back in the queue” for execution by retroactively repealing the law that had made their claims possible – the Racial Justice Act (RJA). [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: 1940’s Mississippi? No, this happened in 21st Century North Carolina

5. Controversial school takeover program looks to reboot in 2019-’20

In one-on-one interview, new Innovative School District principal admits shortcomings of Year One, expresses confidence going forward

Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in the Robeson County town of Rowland opened last August as the state’s first and only school in the new Innovative School District (ISD).

Lawmakers created the ISD in 2016 with the stated objective of helping to improve academic achievement in the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools, but the plan has sparked great controversy and met significant opposition from parents, teachers and school district leaders (most notably in Durham and Wayne Counties) that strongly and successfully resisted proposed takeovers in their areas.

It is not known yet whether Southside-Ashpole students’ performance on state tests has improved… [Read more…]

6. Legislature’s budgets (mini or otherwise) fail to approach school needs

The General Assembly’s inability to craft a budget generating the requisite support of the Governor or three-fifths of legislators has spurred a new approach: the “mini-budget.” The General Assembly’s latest plan is to forego a comprehensive budget bill and instead pass a series of piecemeal bills to address some of the state’s most politically sensitive needs, such as pay increases and other technical adjustments.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this strategy – while better than nothing – will once again fail to reverse a decade of neglect in providing our schools the resources necessary to succeed. [Read more]


7. Weekly radio commentaries and interviews with Rob Schofield:



8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:


Superintendent Mark Johnson needs to do much more for school safety

Image: Adobe Stock

A few months back, state schools superintendent Mark Johnson announced a partnership with a nonprofit known as the Sandy Hook Promise – a group that was formed in the aftermath of the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut almost seven years ago.

The laudable goal of the partnership was to promote an anonymous reporting system called “Say Something” that would help students, educators, and administrators to recognize the signs of those who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others and to anonymously report this information to authorities.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, there’s obviously a heck of a lot more to preventing mass shootings than simply reporting worrisome individuals and situations — especially given the limited authority that public safety personnel in places like North Carolina have to take any official action.

Of late, for example, the Sandy Hook Promise folks have called loudly and regularly for laws that would a) mandate universal background checks on gun purchasers, and b) allow judges to issue extreme risk protection orders to remove guns from individuals suspected of being a danger to themselves or others. This is from a statement the group issued earlier this month in response to statements of President Trump on the mass shooting issue:

“We must all come together in action. We must speak with one voice against acts of hate targeted at persons of color. And we must also put an end to rhetoric that stigmatizes mental illness because we know that people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of gun violence. The President has called for passing Extreme Risk Protection Orders and promised change. Yet, bipartisan proposals for ERPOs and universal background checks sit stalled in Congress. We urge the President to stand by his word and prevent future tragedies before they can happen.”

Mark Johnson

Sadly, but not surprisingly, that sound you hear of crickets chirping in response to the Sandy Hook Promise demands is coming from Johnson’s office. Rather than speaking up forcefully for the safety of the hundreds of thousands of children our state commits to his oversight each day, Johnson appears to be mimicking the approach of his conservative handlers in the GOP hierarchy and their NRA buddies by simply keeping his head down and hoping the problem goes away.

Earth to Superintendent Johnson: The problem isn’t going away. We need real change now to make guns – especially weapons of war like assault rifles – less accessible. We need a state “red flag” law to get guns away from people likely to hurt themselves or others. What’s more it’s a dereliction of duty on Johnson’s part not to advocate for such policies.

After all, if our partner in protecting North Carolina’s schoolchildren can speak out forcefully on this issue, the state’s top education official can and should as well.


In case you missed it: Commentators united in opposition to vetoed immigration bill (video)

In case you missed it over the weekend, it’s worth watching the discussion that took place at the outset of the most recent edition of the political round table TV show, NC Spin. As an occasional panelist, I can testify that the program usually gives rise to spirited debate between progressives and conservatives.

Not so this week when it came to the topic of House Bill 370, the cynical anti-immigrant legislation advanced by Republican legislative leaders and vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper. As you can see from the video below — the discussion runs for about seven minutes or so — the panel (which included former Republican Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and John Locke Foundation commentator Rick Henderson, as well as host Tom Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker and Policy Watch founder Chris Fitzsimon) found nothing positive to say about the legislation. Orr, in particular, was especially adamant in his condemnation of the legislation.