Commentary, News

Attorney General moves to limit anti-worker “no poaching” agreements

Attorney General Josh Stein

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein took an important step forward in protecting both businesses and workers this week by announcing a new multi-state settlement that prohibits several major fast food companies from forcing their employees to sign “no-poaching” agreements — or contracts that prohibit employees of one franchise from moving to another.

Public attention has been drawn to employers’ increasing use of non-compete agreements to keep their low-wage workers from taking other similar jobs in the same industry. One of the more infamous cases involves Jimmy John’s, which forced its front line sandwich makers to sign binding agreements promising not to work for a competitor sandwich-making company under certain circumstances. Although employers typically use non-competes to keep skilled employees from taking proprietary knowledge to a competing business, these kinds of restrictions for low-wage workers—who clearly lack such skills or knowledge — is nothing more than an effort to suppress wages by limiting these workers’ options.

Unfortunately, some industries have upped the ante from non-competes and are increasingly using another stealth tactic to limit employees’ job mobility: no-poaching agreements.

These agreements take non-competes one step further and prohibit employees of one franchise location from taking a job with another franchise of the same company. In other words, a McDonald’s in downtown Raleigh could prohibit an employee from leaving to work at a different McDonald’s franchise in Southeast Raleigh. Even more troubling, workers may not even be aware when accepting a job that future job opportunities are restricted by these agreements, which are signed between employers.

Because the fast food industry has become a chronic abuser of no-poaching agreements,  on March 12, North Carolina joined 12 other states and the District of Columbia in reaching a settlement with Arby’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys, and Little Caesars.  Those restaurants have agreed not to include no-poaching clauses in their franchise agreements, to remove them from existing agreements, and not to enforce such clauses.  Investigations are continuing into Burger King, Popeyes, and Panera.

This agreement follows a major effort by the Washington attorney general resulting in no-poaching clauses in franchise agreements nationwide with a wide range of companies, well beyond the fast food industry.  The most recent agreement included Einstein Bros. Bagel, Express Employment Professionals, FASTSIGNS, L&L Franchising, The Maids, Westside Pizza and Zeek’s Pizza, bringing the total number of companies affected to 57.

Employees interested in learning their rights with respect to non-compete agreements can find information here.

Carol Brooke is a senior attorney with the N.C. Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project. 

Commentary

Desperate for excuses, NC Senate Republican leaders try new ploy to forestall closing Medicaid gap

You’ve got to hand it to North Carolina Senate Republicans: just when it looked like they’d all but run out of excuses in their costly and deadly crusade to keep a half-million North Carolinians from obtaining health insurance, they’ve manufactured a new and preposterous one out of whole cloth.

In case you missed the whole silly charade, it happened on Wednesday when the Republicans voted to “table” a proposed Democratic amendment to a health bill. The amendment would have provided for the Medicaid expansion that’s so long overdue in the state. After the vote, some Republicans advanced the silly claim that because the amendment was “tabled,” Senate rules technically proscribe the consideration of the matter for the rest of the legislative session. Medicaid expansion, therefore, is “dead” for 2019, went the argument.

This claim is, in a word, preposterous. What’s next — a claim that Sen. Phil Berger’s dog ate his copy of the proposal?

Senate “rules” are not laws or constitutional provisions. They are merely self-imposed guidelines that are waived and/or suspended every day. As Sen. Jay Chaudhuri pointed out, the Senate suspended its rules earlier this week in order to speed passage of new voter ID legislation.

If someone ever wanted to attempt to invoke such a rule later in the 2019 session in an effort to prevent a vote on Medicaid expansion and it was somehow adjudged to be a proper motion, the rule could be easily waived.

The bottom line: As Sen. Minority Leader Dan Blue told WRAL’s Travis Fain, “This rule is not going to keep us from debating the issues that are important to North Carolinians. Nothing has changed. If it’s going to take Medicaid expansion to pass a budget, it will take Medicaid expansion. … If they want to expand Medicaid and this rule is in the way, you suspend the rule.”

Blue is absolutely right. Republicans are not going to be able to deny the overwhelming will of the people (a recent Meredith College poll found that North Carolinians support Medicaid expansion by a margin of better than four-to-one) by invoking obscure parliamentary rules. At some point in 2019, Republicans are going to have to come around on this issue. The people and simple justice demand it.

Commentary, Legislature, NC Budget and Tax Center

New reports: Together, state EITC and adequate minimum wage work to strengthen families, and boost the economy

North Carolina’s working families face stagnant wages and rising costs for basic necessities like housing, child care, and transportation.

According to a new report from the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, adopting a state EITC, to complement the federal credit and strengthening the state’s minimum wage will boost incomes for families that work low-wage jobs. In tandem, these policy tools have an especially positive impact on the financial well-being of families that struggle to make ends meet.

A few findings from the report:

  • Wages remain largely stagnant. Although productivity has increased markedly, low-wage workers have seen negligent gains in income over the past four decades. While the wealthiest have enjoyed the benefits of economic growth, low and middle-income workers have not.
  • Raising minimum wage and adopting state EITC work to address this income inequality, and reduce poverty among children. EITC is one of the most effective tools to lift working families and children out of poverty, keeping 5.7 million out of poverty. The federal minimum wage, used as a guide for states, has not kept pace with the rising cost of living. Increasing the minimum wage to $15 over the next five years would positively impact the ability of 28.1 million workers to cover the costs of day-to-day life.
  • Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have already enacted the EITC, and are experiencing its benefits, while 21 states are on pace to raise minimum wage in 2019.
  • Together, these policies reach overlapping but different populations, and allow the public and private sectors to share the cost.

A complimentary report from the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities highlights the positive economic impact of adopting a state EITC, focusing on the workforce, tax, and anti-poverty implications of the tax credit.

The report finds that adopting a state EITC improves the future economic prospects of children in claiming families, helps those families cover costs associated with continued work, like childcare and transportation, and encourages lowest-earning families to work more hours. A state EITC would also help offset the increase tax burden low and middle-income families bear in relation to wealthier tax payers.

Proposals have been introduced in the North Carolina House and Senate to establish a state EITC.  Given this emerging research and the challenges facing working families in our state, let’s hope both get a hearing soon.

Heba Atwa is a policy advocate for the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Burr, Tillis, help Senate confirm true extremist to nation’s second highest court

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

It’s easy to become numb to the steady parade of extreme reactionaries that the Trump administration continues to install in offices of great responsibility, but here’s one that folks ought to take notice of. Today, the United States Senate approved Trump’s nomination of Neomi Rao to serve as a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the court generally recognized as the nation’s second highest. Rao takes the slot vacated by Brett Kavanaugh when he ascended to the Supreme Court. North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both voted “yes” on the nomination.

Check out what the nonpartisan court watchers at the Alliance for Justice had to say about today’s vote and Rao’s abhorrently extreme views:

“The Senate voted today to confirm Neomi Rao for Brett Kavanaugh’s old seat on the D.C. Circuit over the objections of advocates and communities representing millions of Americans, including sexual assault survivors, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and people with disabilities. Rao has blamed sexual assault survivors for being attacked, shamed women for seeking equality in the workplace, belittled the fight for racial justice, and demeaned LGBTQ people. She has proven her willingness to put her dangerous rhetoric into policy time and time again during her tenure at OIRA, rolling back public protections for these communities, the environment, immigrants, and more. She has made clear she wants to use the courts to weaken protections for health and safety, workers, and consumers. Neomi Rao is unfit to serve for a lifetime on the federal bench, but Senate Republicans strong-armed members of their own party to confirm her anyway. With this vote, they have proven that they will go to outrageous lengths to pack our courts with more of Trump’s abhorrent judicial nominees.”

And this is from the good people at the Center for American Progress:

“President Donald Trump and the Senate majority are trying to pack the courts with yet another narrow-minded, partisan judge who will put the interests of big business and the wealthy before those of everyone else. While serving as Trump’s regulatory czar, Neomi Rao signed off again and again on regulations that give powerful corporations special breaks at the expense of people’s health and safety. She has also shown a disturbing bias against victims of sexual assault and has an unacceptable history of disparaging women’s rights.

But this is about more than just one judge; it’s about the whole conservative court-packing scheme playing out before our eyes. The Senate majority refused to confirm scores of federal judges in the last two years of the Obama administration and is now changing the rules to fill those stolen seats as fast as humanly possible. Conservatives have cut home-state senators out of the process, ignored negative ratings from the American Bar Association, and rubber-stamped judges without looking closely at their records. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to put the process on steroids by changing the rules for district court judges. Court-packing is happening right now. And if we do nothing, it’s going to have consequences for an entire generation. We need to fight for a fair-minded judiciary that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

All in all, it’s a truly sad day for the country.

Commentary

Brief “must see” video explains why NC must expand Medicaid, close the coverage gap

If you haven’t already checked it out, please take a few minutes to watch and share this powerful video from the North Carolina Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project entitled “Voices of Uninsured North Carolinians: Expand Medicaid.”