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.”



Farmworker Justice released a report last week analyzing 8 years of USDOL’s enforcement data of laws protecting farmworkers.  It should come as no surprise that the report, “U.S. Department of Labor Enforcement in Agriculture: More Must be Done to Protect Farmworkers,” found high rates of violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage requirement and basic protections afforded farmworkers under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. However, the report also found that USDOL has improved its enforcement efforts in recent years.

The report caught the attention of David Weill, Administrator of USDOL’s Wage and Hour Division.  In response, Weill writes:

Agricultural workers are among the most vulnerable, at-risk populations that the U.S. Department of Labor protects. They are typically unaware of their rights, or afraid to speak up. They often fall victim to wage, health and safety violations as they toil for long hours, often in harsh conditions, to put food on tables across the nation. . .

We have made progress in protecting workers, yet, challenges remain and we must face them in the most effective, efficient ways possible. Since we will never be able to investigate or to provide training to every grower directly, we will continue to deploy our resources strategically to improve compliance as broadly as possible.  We are committed to strengthen the results of every investigation. We will not play a game of whack-a-mole correcting violations on a case-by-case basis. We find the causes of the violations and address them.

You can read his full blog post here.  Farmworker Justice and Weill both agree that USDOL must continue with the trend of more enforcement in order to deter agricultural employers from violating the basic rights of their employees and to protect hard-working farmworkers from abuse.



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.


A chain of Mexican restaurants with a Jacksonville location is paying more than $50,000 in back wages to employees, after federal authorities discovered some workers weren’t receiving minimum wage.

Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurants, a small chain with one location near the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Base, was not paying dishwashers and cooks at the federal minimum wage ($7.25), nor was it paying overtime, ac according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The underpayments affected 30 workers from December 2010 to December 2013 at the company’s eight Virginia locations (in Fredericksburg, Culpeper, Dahlgren and Stafford) and its sole North Carolina location at 2121 N. Marine Blvd. in Jacksonville.

Pancho Villa’s owners agreed to pay $57,446 in back wages to 30 employees, as well as a $6,600 fine.

Federal labor officials are looking for former employees of the restaurant. Those affected can all the Wage and Hour Division at (804) 771-2995.