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Image: Citizens Against Ag-Gag Legislation Facebook page

Image: Citizens Against Ag-Gag Legislation Facebook page

[Update: The veto override motion on House Bill 405 passed the House today by a vote of 79-36 and the Senate by a vote of 32-15]. One of the most unfortunate developments at the North Carolina General Assembly in recent years has been the GOP majority’s affinity for shutting down debate. Though things have improved in the House somewhat since the departure of Thom Tillis, Republican leaders (many of whom complained mightily about the same practices while they were in the minority) have all too often turned to the cheap and lazy solution of limiting debate and public comment, pushing things through on voice votes (e.g. Senator Bob Rucho’s recently shameful performance) and/or using procedural bureaucracy to “table” amendments, rule them  “out of order” or to prevent them from even being offered in the first place.

Of course, the excuse that’s often advanced for the use of such tactics is that “everyone already knows how they’re going to vote” on XYZ bill and therefore, additional debate is just a “waste of time.”

If ever there was a bill that demonstrates the emptiness of such an excuse, however, it has to be the controversial “Ag gag” bill that Governor McCrory recently vetoed. When the measure first passed the House by a huge margin a few weeks ago during a rush of legislation, it received relatively little attention and was perceived as simply being about the issue of animal abuse. Since that time, however, things have changed — most notably that more and more people have actually read the proposal and begun to envision scenarios in which it would have a negative or even dangerous potential impact.

Now, today, as the House prepares to consider overriding the Governor’s veto, there is vastly more public attention and all sorts of problems that had not previously been considered are “on the table.” Moreover, numerous important groups that had simply missed the bill — from the AARP to disabled vets — are against it.

The veto may still be overridden and the proposal may well become law, but there can be little doubt that the state will be better off going forward for having had a much more thorough debate and for having a great deal more scrutiny on the issue.  Let’s hope fervently that the experieince teaches some important people a lesson about how democracy works best.

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 second installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse].

Last month I announced that I would be writing a monthly series focused on the importance of engaging both the business community and the faith / religious community in promoting worker’s rights. I will continue this series alternating each month between the business community and faith community connection.

This month I would like to address a key value proposition for the business community to treat its employees properly and respectfully which includes providing key benefits critical to the employees’ well-being. Benefits such as paid sick days, extended family medical leave and child care assistance and family flex time are key items that low-income and single-parent families particularly need.

But how can business leaders be engaged in discussing providing these benefits? They may feel that it costs a significant amount of money and will drain profit from their own pockets. The investment return key is “employee engagement.”

What is engagement? Engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and it goals, often resulting in willingness to volunteer discretionary effort. When employees are compensated fairly including key benefits, they are indeed more engaged and committed to doing a great job for their employer.

Consulting firm EXTRAordinary! Inc. performed a study on employee engagement and the results showed:

  • Engaged employees average 27% less absenteeism than those who are disengaged.
  • Workgroups with lower engagement average 62% more accidents.
  • Higher levels of team engagement equate to 12% higher customer satisfaction score.
  • Engaged teams average 18% higher productivity and 12% higher profitability.

So before concluding that providing a living wage and offering additional benefits is spending money unnecessarily, I urge all business owners and leaders to consider these employee engagement statistics and benefits and do a realistic evaluation on the positive business results that treating employees well will bring.

Commentary

McCrory budgetThe General Assembly presented the controversial “ag gag” bill to Governor McCrory last Wednesday May 20. The Guv has 10 days to sign or veto the bill (which, by my calculations, means he needs to act by this Saturday). He could also just ignore it — in which case it would become law also.

The bill, as you will recall, would create liability for any person (including employees) who gain access to “nonpublic areas” of employer premises and who then, without authorization, record images or sounds and then use those recordings to breach their “duty of loyalty to the employer.”

Today, the folks over at Public News Service published another worrisome story about the possible impacts of the bill in which a credible argument was advanced that the measure would silence potential whistle blowers in numerous fields beyond agriculture:

“While the bill has made headlines for its potential impact on whistle-blower investigations on factory farms, critics maintain the broad language of the bill could also impact investigations at nursing home and day care facilities.

‘This ag gag bill has sweeping and broad impacts on the safety of really every resident in North Carolina,’ says Matt Dominguez, public policy director for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. ‘If you have a parent in a nursing home or a child in day care, they are going to be put in harm’s way by this bill.'”

Let’s hope that, at a minimum, the Governor fully explains his actions rather than taking the easy way out (as he has done with multiple controversial bills in the past) by simply letting the measure become law without his signature. On such a matter, the public deserves to know where McCrory stands.
Commentary

State lawmakers sent the so-called “Ag gag” bill on to Governor McCrory today. As was explained at some length in this space a few weeks ago, this troubling proposal is targeted at activists who have exposed horrific abuses of animals in agricultural facilities but it raises other concerns that go beyond those circumstances:

“Crafting a statute that protects legitimate property rights when they are competing against the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees and the flow of information in a free society is an enormously complex and difficult proposition. Perhaps there is some reasonable point at which the two competing interests are properly balanced, but then again, perhaps such a balancing point really doesn’t exist. Let’s hope, at a minimum, that sponsors of the bill continue to fine tune the language with an eye toward finding that point and that, if they can’t do so, they opt for language that errs on the side of free speech. The current version isn’t there yet.”

Worker advocates at the North Carolina AFL-CIO issued the following statement today in response to the bill’s passage:

“North Carolina shouldn’t treat workers trying to expose criminal activity by their employers like criminals themselves, but House Bill 405 comes close to doing just that. If Governor McCrory signs this misguided bill into law, employers in our state will be able to sue their workers for having exposed criminal activity on the job. Senators even rejected an amendment that would have allowed those workers to use proof their employer broke the law as a defense in court. It seems lawmakers are more interested in protecting unscrupulous employers than the health and safety of our workforce or of the public at-large. HB 405 is as extreme as it is overbroad, and we call on Gov. McCrory to veto this dangerous legislation.”

Let’s hope that, if nothing else, the Governor’s well-known affection for animals leads him to do more than simply rubber stamp this troubling proposal.

Commentary

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.