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Please join us next week for a special NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon —

“Fraud in the workplace: How numerous North Carolina employers are cheating their competitors and stealing from employees and taxpayers (and what should be done about it)”

Click here to register

There’s a multimillion dollar crime spree underway in North Carolina. Unfortunately, save for the efforts of a few intrepid journalists and lawyers, it’s a problem that’s mostly being ignored and swept under the rug. The issue is wage theft and the “misclassification” of workers by employers. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported in a special report last fall entitled “Contract to Cheat”:

“Employers treat many of these laborers as independent contractors. It’s a tactic that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Yet when it comes to public projects, government regulators have done nearly nothing about it, even when the proof is easy to get.

The workers don’t have protections. The companies don’t withhold taxes. The regulators don’t seem to care.”

Mandy Locke

Please join us as we explore this huge and poorly understood problem and how state lawmakers and regulators might properly address it with the lead author of the “Contract to Cheat” series, investigative reporter Mandy Locke.

Since joining the N&O in 2004, Locke has written extensively about the legal system, child welfare and hospital disputes. Her investigative work has been honored nationally by the Michael Kelly Award and the Gerald Loeb Award for business reporting.

Locke will be joined by Raleigh businessman Doug Burton, President and Owner of Whitman Masonry. Burton is one of the numerous North Carolina employers who treats his workers fairly, plays by the rules and is regularly disadvantaged as a result of the state’s lax law enforcement in this area.

When: Wednesday, January 28th, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

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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“Harvest of Dignity,” a 30-minute documentary that chronicles the lives of modern farm workers in North Carolina, won a regional Emmy over the weekend in the topical documentary category.

The film updates Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 report, “Harvest of Shame”, and shows that unfortunately, not much has changed about how our country treats the people who work so hard to deliver the bounty of our farms to our grocery stores and our tables.

Donna Campbell of Minnow Media in Carrboro, worked closely with the Farmworker Advocacy Network to make the film. Upon accepting the award in Nashville Saturday, Campbell said she did so on behalf of North Carolina’s farm workers.

“Those of us who haven’t spent 16 hours in a sweet potato field really have no idea what hard work is,” she said (you can watch the awards speech around 01:14 of the Emmy broadcast.

At least 150,000 farm workers and their families are in North Carolina for each growing season, according to the North Carolina Farmworker Institute.  often making less than $11,000 a year. Wage and safety violations are unfortunately all too common, with workers still facing difficulties like pesticide exposure, unacceptable living conditions and rampant wage theft.

The thought-provoking movie is worth watching with a book club or group of friends or neighbors, sure to raise awareness and generate discussion. Watch the movie and download discussion materials here: http://pic.tv/harvest/.

Uncategorized

A Mexican restaurant in Cary agreed to pay its workers back wages it owed for skimping on overtime pay and tips.

Los Tres Magueyes paid 13 workers a total of $145,636 in money owed for unpaid overtime, tips taken from servers and hourly wages, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

The restaurant chain has several locations in the Triangle, as well as one in Danville, Va. Nell Navarro, who identified herself as one of the family member owners of the restaurant, said she had no comment on the settlement when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon at the Cary location.

Waiters and waitresses at the Cary location were paid $3.15 an hour, but only for the first 40 hours they worked, according to the labor department investigation. When working overtime, wait staff only received tips (and no wages) and had to pay $200 a week into an illegal “tip pool” that both servers and non-tipped employees had to participate in, according to the labor department news release.  Labor investigators also found kitchen staff had fixed monthly salaries, regardless of the number of hours they worked each month.

“We found many low-wage employees working up to 50 hours a week without any overtime compensation and receiving pay below the federal minimum wage,” said Richard Blaylock, the director of the agency’s wage division office in Raleigh.

Federal wage law allows restaurant servers to be paid as little as $2.13 an hour, but only when the wait staff earn enough in tips to bring the total wages to the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. Employers are required to make up the difference.