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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.

Commentary

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.

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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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North Carolina’s Farmworker Advocacy Network is promoting a fun new Valentine’s Day initiative in which it calls on caring North Carolinians to ask State Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry to “quit breaking our hearts.”

This is from the website:

“We want to tell Cherie Berry that she is “breaking our heart” this Valentine’s Day with her department’s responses that fall shockingly short of addressing the concerns about enforcement of farmworker protections raised by farmworker advocates. For example, Read More