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.


Cherie Berry 2It’s no secret that North Carolina state Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry has been doing the bidding of the state’s employer community for years. If there’s an important issue impacting the well-being of the state’s workers, you can always rest assured that Berry will either be: a) defending/making excuses  for employers or b) AWOL.

This latter description aptly summarizes Berry’s performance (or rather lack thereof) when it comes to the issue so thoroughly described in a recent series of Raleigh’s News & Observer: “Contract the cheat.”

Saturday’s editorial in the N&O neatly summarized the issue and Berry’s ongoing dereliction of her duties: Read More

News, The State of Working North Carolina
MaryBe McMillan

MaryBe McMillan of the N.C. AFL-CIO answers questions from some of the reporters in attendance prior to this morning’s rally in Raleigh.

About a hundred people gathered next to the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in downtown Raleigh this morning for a rally/press conference to help kick off a three-stop “#TalkUnion” tour that is being by state union and civil rights leaders. The tour will also feature a noon event in Greensboro at the Beloved Community Center at 417 Arlington Street and conclude with a 5:30 p.m. rally in Charlotte’s Marshall Park at 800 east 3rd Street. All are invited.

The event in Raleigh featured Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP and state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan as well as rank and file workers and leaders from the local faith community.  All spoke of the desperate need in North Carolina to raise wages for average workers and to halt and reverse the conservative policy agenda of the state’s current political leadership.

The claims of the various speakers were boosted this morning by the release of the latest “State of Working North Carolina” report by experts at the North Carolina Justice Center.

This is from a release that accompanied the new report:

  • Almost six out of every 10 new jobs created since the end of the recession are in industries that pay poverty-level wages, keeping workers trapped in poverty even when they are working full-time.
  • The growth in low-wage work is disproportionately impacting workers of color and women: 13.2 percent of women, 13.5 percent of African-Americans, and 23 percent of Latinos earn below the living income standard, compared to 9.7 percent of men and 9 percent of whites.
  • The persistence of higher unemployment rates for African-Americans is in part being driven by the greater labor force resiliency of African-American workers. Since the recession, African-Americans have not dropped out of the labor force at the same level as white workers.
  • There are approximately 260,000 North Carolina working families who live in poverty, with 12.8 percent of working families earning poverty wages.
  • 13 of 14 metro areas saw labor forces decline since June 2013. For eight metros, the decline in unemployment was driven by the unemployed moving out of the labor force rather into jobs.
  • Rural employment dropped 2.7 percent since the start of the recovery while the state’s large metropolitan areas have seen 6.5 percent job growth.

These data coincided neatly with Rev. Barber’s statement in announcing today’s tour in which he noted:

“While we honor our workers on Labor Day, we cannot ignore the policies and laws passed down from this North Carolina General Assembly that are attacking poor and working families. We believe North Carolinians who work 40 hours each week should be able to put food on their tables and buy school clothes for their children. The long fight for labor rights, for voting rights, for educational equality and for quality health care for all is not a fight between Republican and Democrat. It is a moral fight for the soul of the nation. That is why we are making this Labor Day a Moral Monday.”

Click here for more information on the #TalkUnion tour.”

Click here to read the entire “State of Working North Carolina” report.


U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) doesn’t want to spend much time focused on all the speculation about whether he’ll make a run for the White House in 2016.  As we approach Labor Day, the 72-year-old wants to talk about the jobs deficit and stagnant wages.

The longest-serving Independent in Congressional history was in Raleigh this week for a town hall forum at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

In an interview with N.C. Policy Watch, Sanders spoke about the need for Congress (and individual states) to do more to help America’s shrinking middle class:

“The very bad news is that many of the new jobs that are being created are low wage jobs, part-time jobs. Median family income today is $5,000 less than it was in 1999. Our goal is obviously job creation, but it is also creating jobs that pay people a livable wage.”

As for conservative lawmakers who have suggested that it may be time to scrap minimum wage laws altogether, Sanders offers this assessment:

“Their belief is that we should abolish the concept of the minimum wage. And that means if you are in a high unemployment area, and you are desperate enough, yup, you’re going to have to work for three or four bucks an hour. That is a step toward feudalism,” explained Sanders. “It’s not just the minimum wage, it’s safety on the job, all types of child labor laws…these guys believe that ‘freedom’ means abolishing all of these laws and leaving working people at the mercy of whatever an employer wants to pay them, or how that employer will treat them.”

Sanders, who joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, also shares his thoughts on dark money in politics, the need for campaign finance reform, and new efforts to improve  veterans’ health care.

For a preview of that radio interview, click below. For more on North Carolina’s Living Income Standard, click here.
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FamilyNot  according to a new and detailed report from the wonks at the Center for Economic and Policy Research that examined the New Jersey Family Leave Insurance (or FLI)  program. The program allows workers to take up to six weeks of paid leave (capped at $595 a week in 2014) to care for new babies, seriously ill relatives, or themselves. It is paid for by a small tax (up to 60 cents a week) on employees.

Among the major findings:

  • None of the participating employers reported that the Family Leave Insurance program affected their productivity or turnover.
  • Only two of 18 employers felt the program negatively affected their profitability.
  • Some participants found that the program improved employees’ morale. Read More