Commentary

NC Chamber: The silent elephant in the room in the discrimination debate

Lew Ebert

NC Chamber President and CEO Lew Ebert – Image: ncchamber.net

What gives with the NC Chamber? There was a time when, in its previous iteration as North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, the NC Chamber was mostly a force for slightly-right-of-center moderation in state politics and policy. Over the last several years, however, since former Martin administration official and public education booster Phil Kirk was replaced with conservative fire breather and anti-tax zealot Lew Ebert, things have changed dramatically.

At no point in recent times was this more evident than last week when the Chamber remained publicly silent while state lawmakers and Gov. McCrory rammed through the most regressive and far-reaching LGBT discrimination law in the U.S. — a law that is provoking a firestorm of protest and scores of boycotts around the country. As has been noted on this website and others, dozens of the state’s most prominent corporations and local chambers of commerce have spoken out against House Bill 2 in recent days, but strangely and disturbingly, their overarching trade association — the NC Chamber — remains silent.

How can this be so?

There certainly aren’t any major corporate voices speaking up in favor of the discrimination law. The scanty list of business supporters collected by the pro-discrimination NC Values Coalition is almost exclusively made up of obscure mom and pop outfits — many of which have an obvious religious ax to grind.

Still, for some reason, the NC Chamber remains publicly silent. On the group’s website, it’s as if last week’s special session never even happened.

Again, how can this be so? Is the Chamber — a group whose fingerprints are on virtually every major piece of legislation that impacts the state’s business community — really completely disinterested?

Common sense and the rumor mill on Jones Street tell us that this is simply impossible. According to numerous observers of last week’s kangaroo special session, there’s a reason that the Chamber stayed quiet — namely, that it was bought off with the broad language added to the bill at the last minute to deep-six local living wage ordinances and to bar all state court lawsuits against employers who fire workers for discriminatory reasons.

It is a plausible theory. Noxious and revolting, but utterly plausible.

Whatever the case — that the Chamber went along with the hateful new law as part of a cynical backroom deal or that it simply is so far down the ideological rabbit hole that it literally doesn’t care and will go merrily along with anything the state’s right-wing leaders put forth, it’s not a pretty picture.

If nothing else, it would at least be nice to know the truth. Let’s hope some Chamber members (many of whom have already spoken out against HB2) as well as members of the news media raise these questions of Ebert and his team at the group’s annual meeting that commences tomorrow in Greensboro. Stay tuned.

 

NC Budget and Tax Center

Tax Foundation ranking not a true indicator of North Carolina’s health

You may have heard that North Carolina’s business climate is nearing top-10 status according a new ranking by the Tax Foundation, a tax policy research organization that favors tax cuts. If that sounds strange to you, it should.  Many of the inputs that businesses look to in order to succeed have failed to rebound after the recession because of neglect from state policymakers.

The 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index has many flaws that have been highlighted by critics over the years. It is clear, however, that one way to zip up the ranking is to simply cut taxes, often in ways that primarily benefit large multi-state corporations. And this result in forgoing the kinds of investments needed to improve the economic climate that allows all businesses and all North Carolinians to prosper.

As I’ve noted in a prior post, proclaiming that North Carolina’s business tax climate has leapt from one of the worst to now one of the best largely as a result of tax cuts provides no insight regarding the fiscal and economic health of the state.

Here are five reasons that the Tax Foundation rankings are the wrong foundation for making tax policy in North Carolina.

  1. Ranking focuses on cherry-picked tax policies that the Tax Foundation doesn’t like, rather than on the range of factors that genuinely drive business investment decisions.

The Tax Foundation index simply chooses elements of tax policy it likes best – e.g. a flat income tax rather than a progressive income tax structure – without solid empirical evidence as to the impact of favored tax policies on states’ economic growth. A flat tax income tax, for example, which the Tax Foundation favors, doesn’t take a taxpayer’s ability to pay into account and largely benefits the well-off. A progressive income tax structure, by contrast, considers ability to pay but is not favored in the ranking. Furthermore, states with relatively lower tax rates are favored without considering the impact of lower tax rates on their ability to raise adequate revenue for public services. The Tax Foundation mixes these selected tax policies together and labels the result a state’s “business climate.”

This sole focus on a state’s tax structure leads to an index that mistakenly assumes taxes are the most important factor in shaping states’ business climates and tells us nothing about a state’s economic health – like whether schools are good, higher education is affordable, roads and rails are in good shape, or the workforce has the skills needed for 21st century business. Read more

Commentary

The link between supporting workers’ rights and economic justice – the “race wealth” gap

Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the latest installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse on engaging the faith and business communities on the issue of workers’ rights. You can read his most recent previous installments by clicking here and here.]

In this month’s post, I return to the subject of engaging the business community in promoting worker’s rights.

Most corporate mission statements include a statement about enhancing the overall well-being of the communities they work in and sell to. Moreover, such statements often include items like assisting with economic development in traditionally depressed areas. Too often, however, these statements fail to match words with deeds.

There is a strong connection between this “economic and community involvement” and the issue of racism in the United States. In the Winter 2015 edition of The Crisis — the magazine of the national NAACP — the finance column article was entitled “Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do. It’s Good Economics.” The article quoted the alarming statistic that the median net worth of White families is 9.5 times that of Hispanic families and 12 times that of Black families, with just a miniscule improvement in the past 50 years.

Here are some additional alarming statistics:

  • The 2010 US Census declared that 15.1% (over 46 million people!) of Americans were living in poverty.
  • That Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately represented in the poverty numbers (Over 28% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics.)
  • The poverty rate for women single head of households was 5 times the poverty rate of families with two parents.

Why is this important in the workers’ rights discussion? Because it is most often these poorest families that are Black or Hispanic with the wage earners bringing in the lowest pay with the least amount of benefits. When an illness hits and a parent needs to take time off of work, or when a woman needs to take time off to have a baby, these families of color do not have the accumulated net worth and resources to fall back on to bridge the financial crisis. This will often result in losing homes, ending up on the street, getting more ill, etc. In the long run, this will cost the American country more in health care costs, crisis intervention and public assistance.

In other words: If companies do want to hold true to their pledges to better the communities they are in, more basic benefits must be made available to the lowest paid employees in the enterprise.

Commentary

Engaged employees who are treated right deliver better business results

Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the second installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse].

Last month I announced that I would be writing a monthly series focused on the importance of engaging both the business community and the faith / religious community in promoting worker’s rights. I will continue this series alternating each month between the business community and faith community connection.

This month I would like to address a key value proposition for the business community to treat its employees properly and respectfully which includes providing key benefits critical to the employees’ well-being. Benefits such as paid sick days, extended family medical leave and child care assistance and family flex time are key items that low-income and single-parent families particularly need.

But how can business leaders be engaged in discussing providing these benefits? They may feel that it costs a significant amount of money and will drain profit from their own pockets. The investment return key is “employee engagement.”

What is engagement? Engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and it goals, often resulting in willingness to volunteer discretionary effort. When employees are compensated fairly including key benefits, they are indeed more engaged and committed to doing a great job for their employer.

Consulting firm EXTRAordinary! Inc. performed a study on employee engagement and the results showed:

  • Engaged employees average 27% less absenteeism than those who are disengaged.
  • Workgroups with lower engagement average 62% more accidents.
  • Higher levels of team engagement equate to 12% higher customer satisfaction score.
  • Engaged teams average 18% higher productivity and 12% higher profitability.

So before concluding that providing a living wage and offering additional benefits is spending money unnecessarily, I urge all business owners and leaders to consider these employee engagement statistics and benefits and do a realistic evaluation on the positive business results that treating employees well will bring.

Commentary

New blog series: Engaging the faith and business communities on workers’ rights

Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development.]

How critical is it to involve both the business community and the faith/religious community in promoting workers’ rights? And exactly how to we express the importance of this issue and the value of doing the right thing to these communities?

To answer those questions, I am excited to announce this new monthly guest blog series that I have been asked to write for NC Policy Watch.

In creating proactive change around any issue, multiple communities need to be engaged to drive optimal progress. This is true for one of the key issues now facing the state of North Carolina as we work to build a more prosperous state that delivers opportunity to all our citizens; that of workers’ rights. This topic includes such items as raising the minimum wage to a living wage, providing paid sick days, expanding family medical leave eligibility and providing pregnancy non-discrimination in the workplace.

To drive change in this far-reaching initiative, many different communities and constituencies need to be educated and engaged. Nothing truly can happen without a broad coalition comprised of many communities. Across our state, those of us working for workers’ rights need to connect with our politicians and elected officials, business leaders, the general public, educational institutions that are preparing our future leaders, other nonprofits, faith institutions, and probably a few others I left off this list.

As a retired IBM executive Read more