News

UNC Health Care will hike minimum wage to $15 an hour in the New Year

Employees at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, UNC REX Healthcare in Raleigh, and UNC Physicians Network in the Triangle can look forward to seeing their pay rise in 2019 – with the lowest paid workers seeing the minimum wage rise to $15 an hour by next July.

UNC Health Care made the announcement official on Tuesday:

The living wage will be adjusted on Jan. 13, 2019, to $14 per hour, and then again to $15 per hour in July 2019. That minimum rate of pay will be more than double the Federal and State minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Other hourly employees’ wages will also increase as a result of the minimum wage change. Collectively, those adjustments are expected to result in higher paychecks for about 9,000 employees across the Triangle, and cost UNC Health Care about $15 million a year. Some examples of the types of jobs effected by the living wage increase include housekeepers, stock clerks, nursing assistants, cashiers and others.

“We are committed to providing a competitive living wage to support our workforce,” said Dr. Bill Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care. “We are proud to employ the best people to fulfill our mission of caring for patients and their families, and offering a higher living wage is an important step we are able to take.”

Across the country and North Carolina, more compassionate employers are evaluating and increasing their living wage in order to help address the demands placed on working families. In the Triangle, the cities of Raleigh and Durham, Wake County and other entities have increased their employees’ living wages in recent years.

Discussions about living wages at other UNC Health Care entities outside the Triangle are currently underway. However, the Triangle’s higher cost of living, strong job market and competition for talented co-workers are key factors in the decision to make a living wage adjustment now. UNC Health Care employs more than 30,000 people across its statewide network of hospitals, clinics and more.

The organization says the pay hike is essential to retain a talented workforce in a tight labor market.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Rosanell Eaton, 97, remembered as “a warrior for justice”

Photo by Phil Fonville

Civil rights groups, voting rights advocates and elected officials are remembering Rosanell Eaton as an inspiration to generations of African-Americans in North Carolina.

The 97-year-old Franklin County native, who died Saturday, served as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that successfully challenged North Carolina’s restrictive voting law in 2016.

The New York Times remembered Eaton this way:

Caught up as a witness to history in one of the nation’s major controversies, Ms. Eaton, an obscure civil rights pioneer in her younger years, became a cause célèbre after Mr. Obama cited her courage in his response to a 2015 article in The New York Times Magazine about growing efforts to dismantle the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“I was inspired to read about unsung American heroes like Rosanell Eaton in Jim Rutenberg’s ‘A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act,’ ” Mr. Obama wrote in a letter to the editor. “I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality.”

 

A lifelong devotee of voting rights who vividly remembered the terrors and degradations of the Jim Crow era, Ms. Eaton, one of seven children of a North Carolina farm family, attended segregated schools, used segregated bathrooms and other public accommodations and drank from a “colored” water fountain in her hometown, Louisburg, N.C.

In her first act of defiance, when she was 21, she went to the Franklin County Courthouse in Louisburg. Three white men confronted her there and demanded to know what she wanted.

“I’m here to register to vote,” she said.

They told her that she could register only if she could recite from memory the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. It was a common ruse, disguised as a literacy test, to turn away black voters. The valedictorian of her high school class, she complied without hesitation.

“We the People of the United States,” she said, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

“Well, little lady,” one of the men conceded. “You did it.”

She registered and cast her ballot that year, 1942, becoming one of the state’s first black voters since Reconstruction. She voted in nearly every election thereafter. For more than 40 years, she was a county poll worker on election days, and a special registrar commissioner, helping some 4,000 people to register to vote.

In 1950, she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and for more than 60 years participated in protests against racial discrimination, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

During the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s, she and her family were threatened repeatedly by night riders, according to federal court papers. She awoke several times to the crackle of burning crosses outside her home. Farm equipment was damaged one night, and bullets were fired into a shed and into the farmhouse. One struck just below her bedroom window.

North Carolina’s effort, a half-century later, to impose restrictive changes on voting laws prompted Ms. Eaton to join a peaceful protest outside the Legislature in Raleigh in 2013. As she moved slowly with a walker, her friend, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, then president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P., told her: “Rosanell, you don’t have to do this.”

“I know what I have to do,” she said

Read the full story of Ms. Eaton’s remarkable life here in The New York Times.

Funeral services will be this Thursday (December 13) at 1:00pm at Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, NC.

News, public health

Healthcare round-up: From Florence recovery to Medicaid expansion to combating NC’s opioid crisis (podcast)

Is 2019 the year for Medicaid expansion in the Tar Heel state? Will Medicaid reform save North Carolina money and deliver better service for millions of North Carolinians? And what do you need to know about open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act before December 15th?

We asked those questions and more to North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen last week when she joined NC Policy Watch director Rob Schofield on News and Views.

Click below to hear our full interview where Sec. Cohen and Schofield also discuss Hurricane Florence recovery and the latest efforts to curb the state’s opioid crisis:

Education

Buncombe County school that’s a leader in vaccine-exemptions now dealing with chickenpox outbreak

The Asheville Waldorf School, which has one of the highest religious exemption rates for vaccinations in the state, is now coping with a chickenpox outbreak. The school that serves kindergarten through 6th grade students has 36 students who have contracted the illness, the worst outbreak in 20 years.

According to the Asheville Citizen Times, 110 of the schools 152 students had not received the chickenpox vaccine, making spread of the disease more likely.

“The thing people need to understand is that when you have pockets of unvaccinated people, they serve as reservoirs for disease,” said Susan Sullivan, a nurse with the state DHHS who consults with local health departments about vaccines and preventable diseases

The Washington Post picked up the story this morning and reports that Buncombe County Health officials are imploring parents that the best protection from spreading the disease is for parents to have their children vaccinated.

Sadly not everyone is heeding that advice.

Here’s more from Post reporter Isaac Stanley-Becker:

The school is a symbol of the small but strong movement against the most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When we see high numbers of unimmunized children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community — into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams,” she said in a news release.

But not all parents seemed to grasp the gravity of the outbreak. Nor does everyone see the rationale behind vaccines, which some believe — contrary to scientific evidence — cause more severe health issues than they’re meant to cure. The claim of an autism risk, though it has been debunked, has remained a rallying cry of the anti-vaccine movement.

Recent efforts to tighten the rules have foundered. In 2015, state legislators withdrew a bill that would have all but eliminated the religious exemption after their efforts were met with strident protest. Protesters picketed the state’s General Assembly in Raleigh, warning of “Medical Terrorism.”

Meanwhile, the county’s medical director has been exhorting residents to immunize their children. “What happens when we lack community immunity? Measles is what happens,” Mullendore this fall told commissioners of the county, which had the highest rate of religious exemptions last year.

The friction between medical experts and the residents in their care is not unique to Buncombe County, where the parents of 5.7 percent of kindergartners claimed a religious exemption, or even to North Carolina, where the rate was 1.2 percent.

Forty-seven states allow religious exemptions to vaccine requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. CDC data shows that the median percentage of kindergartners not receiving one or more required vaccine was highest in Oregon.

Read the rest of the article in the Washington Post. For complete local coverage, check out the story in the Citizen-Times.

The Asheville Waldorf School makes no mention of the chickenpox cases on its website or Facebook page.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Environment, Legislature, News, Special Session, Voting

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. The next big battle in North Carolina politics is just days away

The 2018 election may finally be in the rear view mirror, but for better or worse, the next battle over the state’s future will commence very soon – on Tuesday, November 27. That’s the day that Republican legislative leaders will convene the latest of their endless stream of “special” legislative sessions.

Unfortunately, there’s little indication that there will be anything very special about this particular convening – unless, that is, one places a high priority on voter suppression, dishonest schemes to amend the state constitution, and rump, lame duck governance in which unaccountable decision makers attempt to foist lasting change upon a mostly uninformed public.

As usual, we know very little about the specifics of the planned session at this point, but multiple news outlets have reported that it will feature the adoption of legislation to implement (i.e. flesh out the details for) some or all of three constitutional amendments approved by voters last week. That means that we could see legislation related to the amendments on voter ID, victims’ rights and hunting and fishing. The tax cap amendment requires no new legislation.[Read more…] ===
2. With the supermajority doomed, North Carolina should reconsider Medicaid expansion

Despite the manufactured panic of the migrant caravan, despite the midterm’s so-called “referendum on Trump,” despite the nation’s nonsensical gun laws, despite an election that often seemed a direct rebuke of misogynist GOP leaders and policies, the pollsters told us the 2018 election would begin and end with healthcare.

Prevailing wisdom held that, in 2010, voters were rankled by Obamacare when they tossed Democrats and other supporters of former President Obama’s signature legislation.

If past is prologue, 2018’s bad-tempered midterms would spell similar problems for Republicans, who’d, according to the polls, irritated voters by meddling with Obamacare. These days the law, warts and all, enjoys broad support in the general public, and enthusiasm for the GOP’s “repeal Obamacare or bust” campaign seemed to wane even before the late John McCain’s dramatic thumbs down.

Remarkably, a full-throated 41 percent of voters told exit pollsters last week that health care was their most important issue this year, according to NBC News, dwarfing even the economy, gun reform, and immigration. To twist Clinton strategist James Carville’s words, it’s Obamacare, stupid. [Read more…]

3. Partisan gerrymandering will be North Carolina’s next big court battle

Breaking the Republicans’ veto-proof legislative majorities was the short game for North Carolina Democrats and many voting rights activists this year. Their long game? Ending partisan gerrymandering for good in North Carolina.

Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed a lawsuit earlier this week in Wake County Superior Court challenging the redrawn 2017 maps used in the election last week. They are using the state constitution’s Equal Protection and Free Election clauses as well as the free speech and association guarantees to make their case.

“There is nothing ‘equal’ about the ‘terms’ on which North Carolinians vote for candidates for the General Assembly,” the 69-page lawsuit states. “North Carolina’s Constitution also commands that ‘all elections shall be free’ – a provision that has no counterpart in the federal constitution. Elections to the North Carolina General Assembly are not ‘free’ when the outcomes are predetermined by partisan actors sitting behind a computer.” [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Trump nominee Farr could be confirmed to Eastern District judgeship by end of year

4. Republican legislators pledge to probe Cooper Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal

The Joint Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline voted Wednesday to launch an investigation into Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, albeit one without an investigator — and without any notion of how much the inquiry would cost.

The investigation, spearheaded by Republican Sens. Harry Brown and Paul Newton and Rep. Dean Arp, will look into whether Gov. Roy Cooper’s $57.8 million Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Duke Energy and Dominion Energy was a “pay to play” deal to construct a segment of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in North Carolina.

The lawmakers have implied that, in exchange for ponying up the money — which Cooper would control via an escrow account — the utilities would receive key water quality permits from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). [Read more...]

5. High-powered trial lawyers joust as latest hog trial commences

Robert Thackston, who is tall, bald, with a trunk as straight as a redwood’s, removed his midnight-blue suit jacket to reveal a white twill shirt so crisp it threatened to shatter.

On the seventh floor, in Room No. 2 of the federal courthouse in Raleigh, the Texas lawyer sat at the head of a scurry of attorneys hired by Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer. He rocked in his chair and flipped through his thicket of notes, as if perusing a wine list. He raised his eyes and gazed at the grid of lights in the ceiling. He seemed to be rehearsing.
Robert Thackston

Behind him, in the gallery, fellow Texas attorney Michael Kaeske, graying but boyish, smiled and shook hands with each of the plaintiffs. The eight Black neighbors of a 6,000-head industrialized hog farm near Rose Hill in Sampson County had entrusted him with their story. It seemed to weigh on him. Flanked by lawyers from the Salisbury firm Wallace and Graham, which hired him as the lead attorney, he approached his desk and turned around to face the packed courtroom. He touched three fingers to the side of his neck, as if measuring his pulse.

The fourth hog nuisance case against Smithfield Foods began in US District Court on Wednesday. Yet even before the trial, its methods and strategies contrasted with the previous three. The farm in question, Sholar, is owned and operated by Smithfield Foods. Although in all of the cases the defendant is Smithfield, the company has often used its growers — family farmers contractually bound to corporate whims — as a public relations tool to elicit sympathy. This time, there is no family farmer. There is just Smithfield. [Read more…]

6. Folwell, State Health Plan swim against rising tide with denial of insurance coverage to transgender individuals

North Carolina is not the only state whose transgender state employees and dependents are without insurance coverage under their state’s health plan.

But the state’s blanket exclusion of treatments for gender dysphoria—from counseling and hormone treatment to gender confirmation surgery—puts it firmly in the minority.

Only 12 states in the U.S. currently have explicit exclusions of transgender and transition-related health care in their state employee health benefits. Seventeen states and Washington D.C explicitly provide for this type of care as part of their employee health benefits. Twenty-one states don’t specifically cover the treatment but do not have a blanket exclusion, making it easier for patients to appeal for some treatments and for the coverage to expand to include them.

“Generally speaking, it’s a positive trend,” said Logan Casey with the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado-based group that tracks state stances on LGBTQ rights issues. [Read more…]

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon: