Commentary, News

BREAKING: First woman president of NC AFL-CIO elected

This just in from the good people at the North Carolina state AFL-CIO:

NC State AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan

North Carolina’s Labor Federation Elects First Woman President
Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan Succeeds First African-American President James Andrews

(Atlantic Beach, N.C., September 15, 2017) MaryBe McMillian becomes the first woman to lead the North Carolina labor movement after being unanimously elected President of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO during the 60th Annual Convention that wrapped up today.

McMillan has served as Secretary-Treasurer of the federation since 2005. She has spearheaded the cause of getting national and international unions to invest in and organize the South. Before beginning her career in the labor movement, she worked with housekeepers trying to organize at North Carolina State University, and after receiving her Ph.D in sociology did public policy research for several progressive nonprofits. In 2004, she took a job at the AFL-CIO’s Union Community Fund, where she met Andrews – beginning a 12 year partnership fighting for working families in North Carolina.

“James has mentored and inspired countless labor leaders and activists in North Carolina and beyond,” said McMillan. “For over 40 years, he has fought tirelessly to make our state a better place for working people. Our labor movement is much stronger because of James’ leadership, and so many of us are better leaders because of his example. I know that I am.”

Governor Cooper Awarded President Andrews the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the State’s Highest honor, for his more than four decades of service to the labor movement.

McMillan knows challenges lie ahead, but she is ready to lead with the support of the most diverse board in history that includes two members from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the first LGBTQ member.

“I look forward to working with our affiliates to build the movement we all want – one that is constantly growing, that is both big enough and bold enough to set the agenda and drive our politics, that is unafraid to hold our politicians and our own leaders accountable – a movement with the power to change this state and this nation.”

The 60th annual convention featured workshops on storytelling, internal and community organizing, and strategic planning for the future of North Carolina’s labor movement. It also highlighted the debut of a North Carolina labor history exhibit from the Knights of Labor in the 19th century to the Duke Faculty union in 2016.

“I am proud to call the new President of the North Carolina AFL-CIO my friend,” said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre. “MaryBe is a champion of working people in North Carolina, and we will stand with her in the fight to ensure we all have the freedom to join together and negotiate. We will march with her to end discrimination at the polls in North Carolina and across America. And we will organize and mobilize across the state and the South.”

For highlights from the convention, including photos and video, check out the hashtag #ncafl60.

McMillan will be speaking at the next NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon on September 26. Click here for more information.

Commentary

Legislature creates school funding task force, but appears unwilling and unable to seriously examine NC’s school funding needs

This week, the General Assembly announced which legislators will serve on the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform. The Task Force, created via the 2017 budget bill, is charged with developing recommendations to radically overhaul North Carolina’s school finance system. A serious review of North Carolina’s school finance system could substantially benefit the state. School funding matters, particularly for students in low-income families. Unfortunately, early indications suggest that the Task Force is uninterested in reforms that would actually improve educational delivery in the state.

School finance can seem quite complicated. Revenue for public schools is collected from a variety of sources. In North Carolina, approximately 63 percent of funding comes from the state, 26 percent from local funds, and 11 percent from the federal government. These funds are then distributed to 115 school districts and 173 charter schools using a number of formulas; some of which can be quite simple, others quite complicated. To make things more complicated, each state has a unique method for collecting school revenues and distributing those funds to school districts. It’s all too easy to get lost in the weeds.

Yet school finance is quite simple when we take a step back from the details. Ultimately, we want to know two things:

  1. Are we providing enough money to allow every school district to develop students who are ready to successfully enter college or a career?
  2. Is school funding being distributed in accordance with student need, ensuring that a child has the same opportunities for success regardless of zip code or family circumstances?

In school-finance terms, the first question asks whether our school funding is “adequate.” The second question is asking whether school funding is “equitable.”

Unfortunately, the Task Force isn’t required to examine either of these issues. Despite the efforts of the education community, General Assembly budget writers refused to add language requiring the Task Force to examine the adequacy or equity of North Carolina’s school finance system. This is the equivalent of someone confronting their weight problem, but refusing to consider their diet or exercise. Read more

Commentary, News

U.S. House okays gift to predatory payday lenders; only one NC Republican votes “no”

Another day in congress; another reprehensible giveaway to corporate special interests that prey upon vulnerable people. The latest entry in this dreadful parade: A vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to forbid the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from…you guessed it…protecting consumers from financial abuse — in this case the 400% interest sharks in the “payday” loan business.

You really can’t make this stuff up. As low-income Americans struggle to make ends meet in our ever-more-economically-stratified society, our elected representatives have voted to unleash a loathsome and bottom-feeding “industry” that acts as little more than a prettified loan sharking operation. As consumer advocates at Americans for Financial Reform observed:

“Faced with the opportunity to protect Americans from payday lenders and their 400% interest rate loans, a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives instead chose to side with America’s legalized loan sharks and 221 members of Congress are on the record giving a free pass to payday lenders.

It was a simple up or down vote: vote yes and you support consumers and the rule of law, or vote no and allow payday lenders to break the law.

This comes just weeks before the Consumer Bureau is expected to release a new rule with protections for payday loan borrowers. Members of congress who serve their payday lending backers are expected to try to overturn this rule and keep families trapped in debt.”

Rep. Walter Jones

Not surprisingly, the vote was almost exclusively partisan, with all but a couple of Democrats voting against the industry and all Republicans, save four, voting for it. To his credit, the only Republican in the North Carolina delegation to stand up for average people was Rep. Walter Jones. Jones is, of course, a maverick and unpredictable on lots of issues, but in this case, he courageously did the right thing alongside Democratic members Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price. Unfortunately, the rest of the delegation — Ted Budd, Virginia Foxx, George Holding, Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry, Robert Pittenger, David Rouzer and Mark Walker — all, predictably, did the loan shark lobby’s bidding.

The issue is not over. There will be more votes in both house on this issue. Let’s hope Jones’ stand helps shame his fellow conservative lawmakers into rethinking their positions.

Commentary

National fair courts group: Trump nominee for NC federal vacancy should be rejected

The good government watchdogs at the nonpartisan Alliance for Justice are out with a damning assessment of President Trump’s nominee for the long vacant federal District Court seat in North Carolina’s Eastern District. The 13 page report offers a detailed and disturbing look at the career of Thomas Farr and his far right views. As the report puts it, Farr has “built his career on disenfranchising voters of color and stripping workers’ protections.” This is from a statement issued by AFJ President Nan Aron that accompanied the report:

“Thomas Farr has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to two main missions: disenfranchising people of color and attacking workers’ rights. Farr represented North Carolina in its attempt to make it more difficult for African-Americans to vote.  He supported efforts to prevent North Carolinians from bringing any job discrimination claims based on race, religion, national origin, age, sex, or disability in state courts. There are many excellent Republican lawyers in North Carolina whom Donald Trump could have nominated for this seat.  There is no reason for him to have chosen one with one of the worst records on voting rights and discrimination in the state’s recent history.”

Among other findings, the AFJ report notes:

  • Farr, who would as a judge have to rule in Title VII cases, has championed weakening or even eliminating legal protections for employment discrimination. He said it was “better policy for the state” when the North Carolina Legislature eliminated the right of workers to bring any employment discrimination lawsuit in state court.
  • Farr represented North Carolina in an effort to enact one of the harshest and most discriminatory election laws in the country. Immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the North Carolina state Legislature drafted a law which eliminated several voting practices disproportionately used by voters of color and implemented a strict voter photo ID requirement. The Fourth Circuit struck down the law, stating that it targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
  • The Justice Department issued a complaint in 1992 alleging that during Farr’s tenure as a lawyer for the Jesse Helms campaign, the campaign sent postcards to over 100,000 North Carolinians, the vast majority of whom were black voters, suggesting they were ineligible to vote and warning that if they went to the polls, they could be prosecuted for voter fraud. Farr defended the campaign in its response to the Justice Department.
  • Farr spent years working to undermine the rights of employees claiming unlawful and discriminatory employment practices. Farr defended a company when a supervisor said that “women with children should be at home and not employed in the workplace,” that he would go to an employee’s hotel room to “help [her] pick [her] panties off the floor,” and that female employees were “stupid, retarded, and awful.” Farr defended another company when a woman was denied a position because the job “was too hard and too rough for a woman.”
  • Farr also has fought vigorously against workers’ efforts to unionize. He was a staff attorney at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which has deep ties to the Koch brothers and was described by The Center for Media and Democracy as “a national leader in the effort to destroy public and private sector unions.” Later, in private practice, he filed an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit challenging California’s State Employer-Employee Relations Act, which provided for collective bargaining for state employees.
Commentary, News

Author of book on tragic Hamlet chicken plant fire to speak at September 26 luncheon

NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Prof. Bryant Simon discusses his new book, “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives”

Click here to register

For those too young or too new to North Carolina to remember, the horrific 1991 chicken plant fire at imperial Foods in Hamlet, North Carolina killed 25 workers and injured another 55. Workers were unable to escape the blaze because the plant’s owner, Emmett J. Roe, kept the doors padlocked and the windows boarded because he thought his low-wage workers might steal chicken.

Now, Dr. Bryant Simon, a professor of history at Temple University, tells the tragic story of the fire and what it says about past and present American public policy in “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives. “

As one reviewer of the book put it recently:

“Bryant Simon plunges into the horror of an industrial fire and emerges with a gripping tale of capitalism gone wrong. Sifting through the wreckage, he unearths story after story of the unsustainable cost of cheap: a reckless economy, a cut-rate government, factory food, and disposable lives. Simon’s forensics are written with force, clarity, and gripping detail. The Hamlet Fire is a heartbreaking history of the hollowing out of the American dream.”

Simon is also the author most “Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America” (2004), and “Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks” (2009). His research and scholarship has earned awards and honors from the Fulbright Commission, Humboldt Foundation, Urban History Association, Organization of American Historians, and the Smithsonian Institution. His work and popular commentary have been featured in The New Yorker, Washington Post, New Republic, and numerous other outlets. Over last five years, Simon has lectured around the world and taught at the National University of Singapore, University of Tubingen, and University of Erfurt, and has served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

Please join us! — The book will be available for purchase at the event and Prof. Simon will remain after his talk to autograph copies.      

***The luncheon will also feature remarks by MaryBe McMillan, President of the North Carolina AFL-CIO***

Click here to register

When: Tuesday September 26, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $15, admission includes a box lunch. Scholarships available.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com