Commentary

Charlotte Observer: NC Chamber needs to end its silence on HB2

Another good editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer highlights a question that observers of the HB2 crisis have been noting for weeks: Where the hell is the NC Chamber? Many people, of course, think the Chamber has cut a cynical deal to stay silent on the LGBT discrimination aspects of the law in order to win a desired end to employment discrimination lawsuits. Here’s the Observer:

“Everyone has an opinion about North Carolina’s House Bill 2 – even Donald Trump. Everyone, that is, except the state’s largest business group.

The North Carolina Chamber says it has 35,000 members who employ 1.26 million N.C. residents. It is widely regarded as the most influential business advocacy group in the state.

Yet with HB 2 roiling the state and particularly its business community, the Chamber and its CEO, Lew Ebert, have remained silent.

Asked this week what the Chamber thinks about HB 2 and whether it will take a public stand, VP of Communications Kate Catlin offered this statement, in part:

‘We run our businesses based on a factual understanding of the challenges we face. The North Carolina Chamber is conducting an analysis of the recently passed law, HB 2.’

That was precisely the same statement the Chamber issued three weeks ago, shortly after the HB 2 backlash ignited. The Chamber, it seems, has made little progress on its analysis in those three weeks.

The group’s silence raises questions about what’s driving it. Is the Chamber’s apparent acquiescence on the anti-LGBT provisions the price it pays for other elements that it’s more passionate about? HB 2 blocked cities from passing minimum-wage laws, a feature the Chamber surely endorses. And it banned employees from filing a state cause of action if they think they were fired due to their race, age, gender or other protected classes in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

Or does the Chamber remain on the sidelines because it more generally doesn’t want to cross a legislative leadership that enacts deep corporate tax cuts, reduces unemployment benefits and passes other business-friendly measures?

There must be some explanation, because the backlash nationally and within the state’s business community demands that the state’s most influential business group weigh in.

That’s why the Raleigh Chamber called for the legislation to be repealed. It’s why the Charlotte Chamber has expressed concern – though it stopped short of calling for an outright repeal. It’s why businesses such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Time Warner Cable, RedHat and dozens of others have expressed their opposition.

Many of those companies are N.C. Chamber members, which suggests a deep split in the membership. Are those companies OK with the Chamber taking a pass? If not, perhaps they should do more to persuade it to speak up or even ultimately leave the organization.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the Indiana legislature blocked or rolled back similar discriminatory measures. They did so backed by a vocal business community. N.C. legislators face less such pressure because the N.C. Chamber is not exerting it.

Why isn’t it? Either the Chamber agrees with the discriminatory intent of HB 2 or it is holding its tongue to preserve its influence with legislators.

Either one is disappointing, and out of step with what many of its biggest members want.”

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.

 

Commentary

McCrory’s Communications Director blasts NC Chamber

One of the more interesting quotes of the day came from Gov. McCrory’s Communications Director Josh Ellis in a story about the NC Chamber  siding with legislative leaders in their dispute with McCrory over appointments to key state boards and commissions.

Ellis didn’t mince any words about the decision by the NC Chamber, a group generally considered as a key ally of McCrory.

It’s a sad commentary that some prefer the good ‘ol boy system that is inefficient, unaccountable and unconstitutional,” McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said late in the day.

Yikes. That ought to go over well at the chamber headquarters.

Uncategorized

McCrory signs budget, takes petty swipes at his critics and opponents

McCrory budgetGov. Pat McCrory held a formal signing ceremony to herald his approval of the new FY 2015 state budget this morning. The signing took place around a fancy old desk that was set up in front of some red carpeted stairs in the Governor’s mansion with a group of legislators and administration officials standing in the background. It was, in other words, a moment of gubernatorial pomp and circumstance — a moment in which the Governor was positioned to rise above the political fray and strike a statesmanlike pose.

Unfortunately, the Guv couldn’t help himself and in the middle of the ceremony — without any prompting from the media — decided to take cheap shots at his opponents. Read more

Uncategorized

Unemployment in NC slightly up

The state unemployment rate went up to 9.2 percent in December, according to a release this morning from the N.C. Department of Commerce.

It was an increase of 0.1 percent from a month prior.

The state is still up from the national rate of 7.8 percent but is far better off than it was last year. In December 2011, unemployment was 10.4 percent.

(All numbers are seasonably adjusted.)

This comes as the state legislature gets ready to make significant changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program, in order to pay back $2.5 billion the state borrowed from the federal government in the height of the recession.

The proposal on the table would primarily change how jobless workers are affected, by scaling back the number of weeks an unemployed worker could collect benefits form 26 to 12 or 20 weeks (depending on the economy), and cut the maximum weekly amount from $535 to $350. (More here in this WRAL story.)

Businesses would see a slight increase in what they pay.

Worker advocates, including the Policy Watch’s parent organization, the N.C. Justice Center, have said the current proposal would leave vulnerable middle and low-income families without the needed safety nets after a sudden job less, with the business community not paying enough of their share.

Meanwhile, the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, which worked closely with legislators to develop the proposed plan, have described the proposal as balanced, with all sides feeling some pain to right the system. (Click here to read a chamber news release on the issue.)

Legislators are expected to take up the issue later on in the session.