Commentary

NC Secretary of Labor Berry may have hit a new low with Hurricane proclamation

Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry

Wow. Just when you thought it was  impossible for North Carolina’s Secretary of Employers…er ah…Labor, Cherie Berry — a woman who has managed to make a well-compensated career out of slapping her face on elevators and keeping the employers who bankroll her campaigns happy by doing as little as possible to protect workers — to go any further in proving that her title is a cruel joke, she plumbs new depths. As a story by Bruce Rolfsen of Bloomberg Environment recently reported, Berry contends that North Carolina’s “at-will” employment law trumps everything else — even common sense and public safety in the face of Hurricane Florence. This is from the story:

“Employees who don’t report to work during dangerous hurricane conditions could be fired under a North Carolina policy.

Labor attorneys, however, say employers who fire workers for not showing up in hazardous weather could be violating state and federal OSHA safety laws.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s emergency declaration and warnings to stay off the road as Hurricane Florence approaches don’t overrule an employer’s rights under state law to fire a worker for not showing up or leaving without permission, the state Department of Labor’s hazardous weather guidance said.

Although Cooper, a Democrat, is the governor, an independently elected commissioner oversees the Labor Department. Cherie Berry, a Republican, has headed the department since 2001.

Mary Katherine Revels, public information officer for the department, told Bloomberg Environment that it stands behind the guidance.

‘Even if the governor declares a state of emergency, employers can require employees to report to work,’ Revels said.”

After noting that employee lawyers disputed the statement and argued that it could be in violation of federal law, Rolfsen’s story continued:

“The labor department guidance says that because North Carolina is an ‘at-will’ employment state, an ’employer can hire or discharge employees at the will of the employer for any reason or no reason at all.’

The state advises that an employer can ‘simply inform its employees that they must report to work whenever the business is open regardless of the weather conditions or road conditions.’

Workers who want to avoid being fired for not working during a hurricane can ask their employer to create a written ‘adverse weather policy’ specifying when they won’t be expected to be on the job, the guidance said.”

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at Berry’s dreadful negligence and just plain mean-spirited hate for average people, who — she clearly believes — should have to risk their lives and even violate state emergency directives in order to keep their jobs. One thing is for certain, however: no set of words in North Carolina government constitute more of an oxymoron than”Secretary of Labor Cherie Berry.”

Commentary

Editorial: Act now, not later, to prepare for future hurricanes

Be sure to check out this morning’s editorial on WRAL.com — “To ease future storm disruptions, now in Flo’s aftermath is time to plan and act.” As the editorial rightfully points out with respect to the response to Hurricane Florence: “…there is no better time to start logging lessons learned, determining the major needs to be addressed and what kinds of resources are required to both mend what is broken and make changes that will help lessen problems in the future.”

Here’s the fine conclusion:

“The unfortunate reality is that current leadership in the state legislature has been reluctant, too often outright resistant, to addressing long-term preventative policies that would discourage building in flood-prone areas or prevent development that would exacerbate flooding conditions.

Gov. Roy Cooper needs to act now – not in the midst of an emergency — to bring together the people and resources on the local, state and federal level — to develop comprehensive solutions to common problems that have emerged during hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

Areas of focus should include:

  • How best to help those people and resources displaced by a natural disaster.
  • What needs to be done to be sure critical infrastructure and transportation arteries, such as interstate highways and railways, aren’t susceptible to flooding. There is little excuse that critical routes, such as Interstate 40 between Raleigh and Wilmington, face prolonged closure in a natural disaster.
  • Comprehensive review and updating of stormwater and dam-safety rules and regulations that put a priority on the protection of residents, businesses and the environment.
  • Updating regulations for the storage and disposal of animal waste, particularly from industrial-size hog and poultry production operations, so they are not vulnerable to overflow and spills.

Florence won’t be the last hurricane North Carolina faces. But there are realistic steps that can be taken to mitigate, if not avoid, several of the challenges faced in previous storms.”

Click here to read the entire editorial and here to read this morning’s Weekly Briefing which argues that we need a new and comprehensive societal commitment to respond to future storms and the climate change that will help fuel them.

Commentary

Former prosecutor: Kavanaugh vote must be delayed while sexual assault claim is investigated

We know that the natural disaster that continues to grip North Carolina remains at the front of everyone’s mind, but for those who have a few minutes for other matters, please take a look at the op-ed authored by former federal law clerk, prosecutor and author David Lat for the New York Times entitled “Delay the Vote — for Kavanaugh, for His Accuser and for the Court: Christine Blasey Ford deserves to be heard. And the judge deserves a chance to clear his name.”

At issue, of course, is the recent revelation by a woman who says she was the object of an attempted sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and another man at a party in the in the 1980’s. Here’s Lat:

“Her disturbing claims deserve further investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee, even if it means delaying his confirmation vote. A delay wouldn’t just be for her sake, but for the sake of Judge Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court itself.”

After explaining how Ms. Ford has come forward to provide details of the event and that some have argued that, based on Kavanaugh’s denials, the confirmation vote should proceed, Lat says this:

“I respectfully disagree. The confirmation should be delayed until there is a full investigation, followed by Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, into Ms. Ford’s accusations.

She passed a polygraph test administered by a former F.B.I. agent, and her therapist provided The Washington Post with notes reflecting that Ms. Ford described the alleged incident in 2012. But her case is far from ironclad.

For example, she can’t remember or remains uncertain about many key details (including the year of the alleged incident); she told nobody contemporaneously (unlike many other alleged victims of sexual assault); and both Mr. Kavanaugh and his friend deny it. There is, as far as we know, no physical evidence. It’s a true “she said, he said” — or, rather, “they said,” since two people deny this incident ever happened.

But Ms. Ford should at least be heard, and not just because the #MeToo movement has made the importance of hearing out victims of alleged sexual misconduct even more obvious than it already was. The alleged perpetrator and witness should be heard from as well, and everyone involved should be placed under oath and subjected to aggressive questioning. (At least three Republican senators — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee — have expressed interest in hearing more about Ms. Ford’s account, but there’s no consensus yet on the preferred process.)…

The way in which Ms. Ford’s allegations came to light was, to put it charitably, deeply unfortunate. These claims should have been thoroughly and discreetly investigated weeks ago, by nonpartisan F.B.I. agents and bipartisan Senate investigators, in a way that protected Christine Ford’s privacy and Brett Kavanaugh’s good name. But here we are.

It is quite possible — or even likely — that hearings won’t prevent Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed given the equivocal evidence against him and, perhaps even more important, the number of Republicans and red-state Democrats in the Senate. But due process, which ought to matter when it comes to filling the critical seat on the highest court in the land, calls for nothing less.”

Commentary

Carolina Panthers owner defends kneeling players, blasts Trump

David Tepper – Image: Wikipedia

It was already apparent that the Carolina Panthers NFL team had accomplished a major upgrade in team ownership earlier this year when Pittsburgh billionaire David Tepper bought the team from fast food mogul/troubled and dirty old man Jerry Richardson, who made racist comments and sexual harassment a part of front office culture for many years. Now there’s additional evidence that Tepper is a true breath of fresh air in the Queen City. This is from a story this morning in the Charlotte Observer (“David Tepper: It’s ‘dead wrong’ to accuse protesting NFL players of being unpatriotic”) about an interview Tepper gave to CNBC:

New Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper said it’s “dead wrong” to accuse NFL players of being unpatriotic should they choose to protest during the national anthem.

In an interview with CNBC’s Scott Wapner Thursday in Pittsburgh, Tepper was careful not to mention outright the name of President Donald Trump, who routinely slams NFL players who protest police brutality and racism during the national anthem. Kneeling during the anthem is a practice started by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick at the start of the 2016 season.

“It’s the biggest pile of bull-dingy ever. These are some of the most patriotic people and best people. These are great young men,” Tepper told CNBC. “It just makes me so aggravated and angry. OK? It’s just wrong. It’s just dead wrong.”

People should focus on what NFL players do in the community instead of what they do during the national anthem, Tepper added….

In the past, Tepper has been, as Wapner noted, “exceptionally critical” of Trump.

Before the 2016 election, for instance, Tepper slammed then-candidate Trump for failing to donate to relief efforts after disasters that struck New York, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, despite claims by Melania Trump that her husband is generous. “Trump masquerades as an angel of light, but he is the father of lies,” Tepper told CNBC at the time.

In the interview Thursday at Carnegie Mellon University with CNBC, on the new quad that bears Tepper’s name, Warpner tried several times to steer Tepper back into talking about the national anthem, which Warner, said “everybody is talking about.”

Tepper responded that there’s “a red-headed guy in D.C. that likes to talk about it. But I don’t want to mention his name right now.” Wapner pressed the issue further, coaxing Tepper with “everybody knows who you’re talking about.”

“Well I don’t know — Howdy Doody, who is that?”

Tepper went on to note that “justice for all,” is what fans should be focusing on.

Go Dave – give ’em heck!

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, Legislature, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. The dirty half dozen: What you need to know about all six proposed constitutional amendments

The 2018 midterm elections are upon us and North Carolina voters will soon pass judgment on, among many other things, an unprecedented raft of six constitutional amendments.

The proposals include:

  • a proposal to permanently cap the state income tax rate,
  • a proposal to remake the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement so as to alter its composition and how its members are selected,
  • a proposal to dramatically alter and limit the Governor’s authority when it comes to filling vacancies that occur on the state courts,
  • a proposal to require some undetermined form of photo identification for in-person voting,
  • a proposal to establish a state constitutional “right” to hunt and fish, and
  • a proposal to enact a multi-faceted “victims’ rights” amendment known as “Marsy’s Law.”

There are many compelling reasons to oppose all six – starting with the absurd and outrageous lack of process that accompanied their approval by the General Assembly during the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session, the hurried rewrite of two amendments in late August, and the deceitful and dishonest way the proposals will be summarized and presented on the ballot.

Still, even if one were to set aside all of the profound problems of process and procedure, there are numerous important substantive deficiencies in each amendment that are more than adequate to justify a “no” vote. Here is a brief list: [Read more...]

2. Old and in the way: Hurricane Florence could barrel over landfills, waste lagoons, hazardous waste sites and more toxics

Thousands of animal waste lagoons, hazardous waste sites and other repositories of toxic material lie in and near the projected path of Hurricane Florence, increasing the risk of breaches or leaks of dangerous chemicals into the environment. (This is one important reason you should avoid wading through or touching flood waters.)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has a new mapping and data feature, which shows the locations of these sites, both in map form and spreadsheet. All of the maps below are from the DEQ site and can be clicked on to enlarge them. We’ve linked to each map; once you get to that DEQ page, click on the “data” tab to view the addresses and facility names in spreadsheet form.

The first map shows all of the animal feeding operations for permitted swine, cattle and poultry farms that use wet litter. (Dry litter poultry farms are “deemed permitted” and are largely unregulated.) With more than a foot of rain forecast, there is a higher risk of lagoon breaches, which can send millions of gallons of animal waste to rivers, wetlands and nearby property. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

Read more