The lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer puts it succinctly as it comments on the ongoing N&O series by reporter Mandy Locke on Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry:

“She wasn’t doing her job when Democrats were in power, and she’s not doing it now. In a News & Observer report by Mandy Locke, a clear pattern emerges: Berry doesn’t see her mission as protecting workers; she sees it as protecting business, even when workers are getting shortchanged. Time and again, her department has fallen short on investigations of unpaid wages….

There’s nothing complicated about what’s going on here. Berry, whose image is on every elevator in North Carolina (her department has oversight of inspections), has gained a certain amount of name recognition over the years. She has kept winning office. But the public, except for those workers whose problems have been ignored, doesn’t pay much attention to whether Berry is doing her job.

She’s not. And now, with Republicans in charge of the governor’s office and the General Assembly, where there is virtually no interest on the part of the majority in workers’ rights, Berry is able to simply sit tight….

With Berry, the problems go from workers not being paid for work performed to a commissioner being paid for duties unfulfilled. Both problems need to stop being tolerated and start being fixed.”


Cherie BerryIf you didn’t see it over the weekend, you need to click here and catch up with reporter Mandy Locke’s new series on North Carolina’s absurdly ineffective and lackluster Department of Labor: “The Reluctant Regulator.”

As Locke explains, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, who has now been in office for almost 15 years and long been an outspoken defender of the state business community, has been doing a mostly lousy job at what she was elected and gets paid to do:

“North Carolina has a simple requirement of employers: Pay your workers what you promise. When bosses don’t, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry’s team has the duty under state law to step in and try to make it right.

But for years, Berry’s Labor Department has rarely pushed uncooperative companies to settle debts to their employees. The News & Observer reviewed reports from nearly 50 cases in fiscal year 2014 that resulted in little or no money for workers. If a company owner pleaded poverty or refused to pay, state investigators nearly always gave up. If the employer simply ignored them, the department closed the case.”

The series goes on to document case after case and area after area in which Berry’s department has failed to do its job and/or blames someone else for its shortcomings. You can almost hear the leaders of the various conservative business lobby groups that are responsible for funding Berry’s campaigns chuckling nervously to themselves: “C’mon Cherie, don’t be quite that obvious.”

Of course, the thrust of these revelations is not particularly new or surprising. There have been numerous stories down through the years about Berry mailing it in at DOL to little obvious effect. Let’s fervently hope that this time the spotlight finally brings on some actual change for the state’s beleaguered workers.

Click here to read “The Reluctant Regulator.”



construction workerToday is Worker Memorial Day, a day to honor workers who have died on the job. The recent construction accidents in Raleigh are stark reminders of why this day matters. Worker advocates will gather at 10:30 at 7 W. Lenoir Street in Raleigh, the site where 3 workers died, and will walk to the NC Department of Labor. There they will deliver a letter asking Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry to provide an accurate count of all worker deaths in North Carolina, and to convene the OSHA Advisory Council as required by law. Check out the op/ed today by the NC AFL-CIO’s MaryBe McMillan.


Cherie Berry 2It simply shouldn’t take a four-year herculean effort by an extraordinarily dedicated lawyer in order for a handful of average workers to get paid an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. Unfortunately, as this story by reporter Mandy Locke in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer makes clear, it does take such an effort these days in North Carolina where the state’s absurdly low-energy Labor/Elevator Commissioner Cherie Berry continues muddle along, doing as little as possible to protect the workers of our state.

As Locke reports:

“Every few months for nearly four years, Katharine Woomer-Deters had lugged a box full of records three blocks from her office to the Wake County courthouse. Inside it: all the proof and power she should have needed to force a Raleigh contractor to pay wages he owed to seven workers for labor in 2010.

Woomer-Deters and her employer, the N.C. Justice Center, have devoted tens of thousands of dollars worth of time and energy trying to get Robert Charleton Miller, owner of Raleigh construction company NC Contracting Inc., to pay the $14,000 he owed.

Finally, on Thursday, Woomer-Deters got what she needed: a payment from Miller. He signed an agreement to pay monthly until his debt is settled. He made his first installment Thursday.

It took the threat of jail and a stern judge to push Miller toward the settlement.”

And, of course, this latest development is just the latest in a scandalously long trail of cases in which employers across North Carolina have been failing to pay workers the wages and benefits to which they are entitled. As Locke reported last fall in her five-part “Contact to Cheat” investigation: “North Carolina is losing $467 million in annual tax revenue from the practice within the construction industry alone.”

Unfortunately, state Labor Commissioner Berry — the constitutional officer charged with protecting the workers of our state from such predations — continues to snooze away through her fourth full term in office, out of sight and out of mind. There’s no word yet on whether Berry intends to seek a fifth term in 2016, but if her somnambulant performance in office over the past decade and a half is any indication, she’ll probably mail in her decision.


Malfunctioning elevators aren’t getting follow-up inspections, and labor inspectors didn’t check in on  companies who have gotten in trouble in the past to ensure compliance with wage and hour laws, according to a financial audit from N.C. State Auditor Beth Wood’s office.

The audit released Thursday by Wood’s office found that at the N.C. Department of Labor:

  • Only 3 percent of elevators found to be in violation of safety rules in 2012 had follow-up inspections
  • Penalties for elevator violations are nominal and rarely imposed
  • No follow-up reviews were conducted for 11 employers that violated wage and hour  laws

The N.C. Department of Labor is headed by Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, whose picture hangs in every elevator in the state as part of the annual inspection notice.

Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry

The department is updating computer software to better track labor investigators work and ensure that follow-up reviews are done at both divisions, according to the agency’s response in the audit.

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