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Our neighbors in the Midwest Money Exchangehad a big victory earlier this year when Cincinnati passed an innovative ordinance aimed at reducing wage theft. Recognizing the devastating impact of this common problem on workers and the local economy, Cincinnati is setting expectations for companies that do business with the city or that receive incentives. These companies must disclose prior labor law violations as part of the bidding process and report to the city any wage or payroll fraud complaints received from employees (including employees of subcontractors) during the performance of the contract. In turn, the city will refer complaints to appropriate agencies and, if an adverse determination is issued, will take steps such as termination of the contract, reduction of the incentives payment, and/or debarment from future contracts.

In 2013, the NC General Assembly clamped down on local governments’ ability to take some of these steps in our state. In its expansion of the public policy known as “preemption,” the state now prohibits cities and counties from placing certain requirements on their contractors. Local governments in North Carolina do have the ability to take some measures to improve worker wellbeing in their communities, as explained in our brief The power of wage policies: how raising public sector wages can promote living incomes and boost the economy  – but legislative action is required to enable North Carolina communities to follow Cincinnati’s lead and put other proactive measures into place to protect workers’ wages.

Commentary, News

Gov. McCrory took a step in the right direction this afternoon on the issue of employee misclassification — the persistent problem that plagues thousands of North Carolina businesses wherein workers are improperly treated as contractors when they ought to be employees.  As we have reported on multiple occasions this year (and as Raleigh’s News & Observer documented a while back in its special series “Contract to Cheat,”) this is a huge problem that harms workers and honest businesses and robs the state of tax revenue. Doug Burton, a Triangle area contractor put it this way:

“Treating employees as independent contractors when in fact they are regular employees is a fraudulent business practice that has become an epidemic. Some call this ‘misclassification,’ but it is in fact fraud that lets these cheating businesses – many from out of state – off the hook for basic protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, health and safety protections, unemployment insurance, federal and state tax withholding, social security withholdings and matching and more.

This fraud is a growing problem that harms workers, puts a strain on government resources and provides an unfair advantage when these unscrupulous employers compete with law-abiding businesses. I see it every day. Other legitimate business owners see it, too, when they are regularly underpriced for jobs and there is no other explanation for such bids other than cheating. When cheating businesses classify employees as independent contractors to reduce labor costs, legitimate business and workers alike lose out.”

Today, to his credit, the Governor issued an order that seeks to attack this long-neglected problem. This is from the news release that accompanied the order:

“Executive Order 83 directs the Chairman of the Industrial Commission to appoint a Director to oversee the new section’s activities. The Director will serve as the primary point of contact for reported instances of employee misclassification and will refer all reported instances to the relevant state agencies for investigation and enforcement action.

Governor McCrory has directed the Department of Revenue, the Industrial Commission, and the Division of Employment Security to each appoint a liaison who will work directly with the Director to ensure that their respective agencies are taking proper enforcement actions and sharing all necessary information. The executive order also provides an opportunity for improved coordination and collaboration between the new Employee Classification Section and the Department of Labor and Department of Insurance.”

It’s important to note, however, that the order is far from all that is necessary. Legislation is still required to institute appropriate fines and penalties and the authority for state officials to issue “stop work” orders against cheating employers. Let’s hope lawmakers follow up in the 2016 legislative session. Until then, however, this is a promising beginning and a small bit of good policy news to end the year.

Commentary
Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the latest installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse on engaging the faith and business communities on the issue of workers’ rights. You can read his most recent previous installments by clicking here and here.]

We are now at the Advent Season, where Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as Savior. During this special time, Christians proclaim the “Good News” that was shared about Jesus in the Biblical Scripture. Often verses are quoted on holiday cards sent to friends and family far and wide.

Let us mediate on one of the verses we often hear at this time about Jesus’ mission in coming to the earth. It’s Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…”

Are not people of faith who often talk about “Jesus being the reason for the season” then called to assist Christ in His proclaimed mission?

Who are the poor? More than likely many are single parent family heads working at near minimum wage with little or no benefits struggling to provide basic food, clothing and shelter for their families.

Who are the prisoners? Read More

Commentary, News

With Thanksgiving season upon us, here’s a great event worth supporting this weekend:

Triangle Community, Farmworkers to Protest Publix, Calling on Retailer to Join White House-Backed Human Rights Program
As Publix rapidly expands throughout North Carolina, farmworkers and consumers demand an expansion of the supermarket giant’s commitment to human rights of farmworkers in their supply chain

On Sunday, November 8, at 2 pm, scores of Triangle area community members will gather with farmworkers of the internationally-recognized the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for a protest at the Publix in Cary. They will demand that the Florida-based grocer support the human rights of farmworkers by joining the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a groundbreaking collaboration that has won the praise of human rights observers from the White House to the United Nations for its unique success in addressing decades-old farm labor abuses at the heart of the nation’s trillion-dollar food industry. Since Publix began expanding their stores into the Tar Heel State, North Carolinians have been demanding that Publix end its six-year refusal to be part of this transformative solution to decades of farmworker exploitation, most recently holding a lively picket outside of a store in Asheville this past Sunday and another action at a Charlotte Publix yesterday. This coming Sunday’s protest comes a few days after Wednesday’s free screening of the film “Food Chains” at the Raleigh Grande Theater, which focuses on the work of the CIW, exploring the exploitation of farm workers in the agriculture industry in the United States, the complicity of corporations in perpetuating human rights abuses, and the role consumers can play in working for justice.

What: Large and lively picket at Publix
When: Sunday, November 8, at 2 pm
Where: Outside of the Publix at 1020 Bradford Plaza Way, Cary
Why: Farmworkers and consumers will call on Publix to join the Fair Food Program, a social responsibility program to ensure respect for basic human rights for farmworkers in its tomato supply chain.

After decades, the CIW has fundamentally transformed the Florida tomato industry through the Fair Food Program (FFP), an historic partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and 14 multi-billion dollar tomato retailers, such as McDonald’s and Walmart. This past summer, the Fair Food Program began to expand into tomato fields up the east coast through New Jersey, including North Carolina. Participating companies require more humane labor standards from their tomato suppliers and pay one penny more per pound to improve workers’ pay, agreeing to buy only from tomato growers that are part of the Program. The FFP is ensuring human rights protections for tens of thousands of farmworkers, including required shade and water, other critical health and safety protections, and a zero tolerance policy for slavery and sexual violence. Since 2011, nearly $20 million has been distributed to farmworkers’ paychecks through the penny-per-pound premium. The Fair Food Program was heralded in the New York Times as “the best workplace monitoring program … in the US” and “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in the Washington Post.

Commentary

PV-contingent-work1Our new report, “The Age of Contingent Employment: How changes in employment relationships are impacting worker wages, power and prospects”, highlights the explosive growth of the use of temporary staffing agencies to supply workers and how that harms our economy. Meanwhile, a heart-wrenching piece on the Huffington Post today shows just how devastating temp work can be for workers (and their families) who have no other options but to accept temp jobs.

The article tells the story of Jeff Lockhart Jr, a Virginia man who got a job at the new Amazon fulfillment warehouse outside of Richmond after a long period of unemployment and died on the job a couple months later.  Although he worked at the Amazon facility, he and most of his colleagues were temp workers hired, supervised, and paid by a temporary staffing company.  The article also explains why the use of temps by large companies is on the rise.

When it comes to low-wage positions, companies like Amazon are now able to precisely calibrate the size of its workforce to meet consumer demand, week by week or even day by day. Amazon, for instance, says it has 90,000 full-time U.S. employees at its fulfillment and sorting centers—but it plans to bring on an estimated 100,000 seasonal workers to help handle this year’s peak. Many of these seasonal hires come through Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Delaware-based temp firm. The company’s website recently listed 22 corporate offices throughout the country, 15 of which were recruiting offices for Amazon fulfillment centers, including the one in Chester.

This system isn’t unique to Amazon—it pervades the U.S. retail supply chain. Read More