Commentary

New report: Raising the minimum is good for everyone in NC

Raising the minimum wage in North Carolina will provide families with bigger paychecks, create more good jobs, and build thriving communities, all without hurting employment, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center.

North Carolina’s current wage floor is identical to the nation’s at $7.25 an hour, but legislators have introduced a plan that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. A new report from the NC Justice Center finds that this bold effort to improve wages will benefit working people, businesses, and communities. Specific findings include:

  • Raising the minimum wage is necessary because median wages in North Carolina have actually dropped by 10 cents an hour over the past ten years, from $1,681 an hour in 2008 to $1,781 in 2018.
  • This plan would boost paychecks for almost 1.6 million working people, giving each of them a raise of $4,422 per year, and a combined $7 billion for all workers across the state.
  • It doesn’t just affect teenagers—it helps adult workers and parents who rely on minimum wage jobs to support their families. More than 93% of people who will receive the raise are older than 20, and more than 765,000 children have parents who will benefit. Half of all single parents and a quarter of all married parents will see a raise.
  • Raising the minimum wage will create thousands of good jobs by transforming low-wage jobs into good-paying, family supporting jobs. For example, more than 260,000 retail workers would see their paychecks grow by $4,100 and 160,000 people working in the food services industry would receive almost $6,000 more every year.
  • Raising the minimum wage will not increase joblessness or unemployment. Looking just at the 18 states that raised their minimum wage to take effect January 1, 2018, those states had identical employment growth and unemployment over 2018 when compared to states that did not raise their wage floor. This finding is similar to rigorous academic studies by professional economists.
  • The plan creates an unparalleled opportunity for bringing historically marginalized communities into the mainstream economy. Almost half a million African American workers and a quarter million Latinx workers would benefit—largely because of the plan’s elimination of discriminatory provisions that exclude domestic workers, agricultural workers, and tipped employees from full minimum wage protections. Historically, these types of discriminatory barriers have held back overall economic performance, so including these marginalized working people will help boost economic growth.

Raising minimum creates good jobs, it doesn’t kill them. More than 30 states have raised their minimum wages in the last decade, yet mass job loss and unemployment have never occurred. Job growth and unemployment are the same in the states that raised their wages for 2018 compared to those that that didn’t. That’s one big why raising the minimum wage is good for the economy.

The full report can be found here.

Commentary, News

The fight for $15 arrives at the General Assembly

[Cross-posted from the website of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.]

North Carolina lawmakers joined Raising Wages NC — a growing coalition of labor groups, advocates, business, and faith leaders — at a legislative press conference today to announce the introduction of H.B. 366, inclusive legislation that raises the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2024, indexes it to the cost of living, ends the subminimum wage for persons with disabilities, phases it out for tipped workers, and repeals exemptions for agricultural and domestic workers.

North Carolina’s minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for a decade and does not cover everyone. At the event, legislators, workers, business owners, and faith leaders called attention to the moral and economic imperative of making sure that everyone who works full time can earn a living wage, afford the basic necessities, and has a fair opportunity to work hard and succeed — including people with disabilities, people who care for our homes and families, people who serve our food, and the people who grow it.

“This bill will undo decades of exclusions for workers like me,” said Priscilla Smith of Durham, a direct care worker and a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which is part of the Raising Wages NC Coalition. “We are taking steps to finally include all workers and make sure no one gets left behind in the fight for living wages.”

According to a report released today by the nonpartisan NC Justice Center, gradually raising the minimum wage in North Carolina to $15 an hour by 2024 “would boost paychecks for almost 1.6 million working people, giving each of them a raise of $4,422 per year and a combined $7 billion for all workers across the state.” Moreover, the report’s authors reviewed empirical studies on job growth and employment rates and found no difference between states which have enacted minimum wage increases and those that have not. Even in cases where employers reduced hours to offset higher labor costs, the report finds that workers still came out ahead from higher hourly earnings and predicted that North Carolina “businesses will directly benefit” when 1.6 million new customers are able to spend those higher earnings on their goods and services.

“As I always say, the economy and community cannot be successful unless everyone has an opportunity to participate,” said Eric Henry, president of TS Designs in Burlington and chair of the N.C. Business Council. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 is a good step toward achieving that goal.”

Reps. Susan Fisher, Jean Farmer-Butterfield, MaryAnn Black, and Pricey Harrison are primary sponsors of H.B. 366. In addition to lawmakers, speakers at the press conference included Rev. Jennifer Copeland, NC Council of Churches; Wendy’s worker Earl Bradley and Waffle House waitress Eshawney Gaston, Raise Up for $15 and a Union; direct care worker Priscilla Smith, National Domestic Workers Alliance We Dream in Black NC Chapter; TS Designs president Eric Henry, NC Business Council; and Ana Pardo, NC Justice Center Workers’ Rights Project.

For more information about the campaign, visit www.raisingwagesnc.org.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, News

A must-read: New series shows long odds for sexual assault convictions in NC

From time to time, good reporters go above and beyond in their public service.

Case in point: A new four-part series publishing this week details the stunningly long odds of a sexual assault conviction in North Carolina today. And in some counties, it’s near impossible.

The numbers indicate, quite frankly, what many advocates have long believed to be the case: the criminal justice system is stacked against victims. 

From Carolina Public Press’ synopsis of the series:

Analysis of 4 ½ years of North Carolina court data shows that about 1 in 4 sexual assault defendants who were charged and had their cases resolved in that time window were convicted of either sexual assault or a reduced and related charge. Of those cases in that time period, 50 defendants went to trial; 23 were found guilty. But individual counties had different outcomes. More than 30 of the state’s 100 counties had no sexual assault or reduced-charge convictions at all. A few were well above the statewide level.

A collaborative investigative project spanning 6 ½ months and including 11 news organizations analyzed statewide court data and conducted extensive interviews with sexual assault survivors, victim advocates, medical professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors and state officials across the North Carolina.

The result is Seeking Conviction, an investigative series examining sexual assault convictions in North Carolina, the challenges to successful prosecution, the differences across jurisdictions and the issues state court rulings create when it comes to consent.

Keying on its exhaustive analysis of court records, the series found that the prospect of a sexual assault conviction varies depending on your zip code.

Indeed, in some counties, suspects face very little chance of a conviction, while in others, the chances are markedly higher.

This week’s series is a call to action. Make it the first of many, many conversations.

Commentary, News

Attorney General moves to limit anti-worker “no poaching” agreements

Attorney General Josh Stein

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein took an important step forward in protecting both businesses and workers this week by announcing a new multi-state settlement that prohibits several major fast food companies from forcing their employees to sign “no-poaching” agreements — or contracts that prohibit employees of one franchise from moving to another.

Public attention has been drawn to employers’ increasing use of non-compete agreements to keep their low-wage workers from taking other similar jobs in the same industry. One of the more infamous cases involves Jimmy John’s, which forced its front line sandwich makers to sign binding agreements promising not to work for a competitor sandwich-making company under certain circumstances. Although employers typically use non-competes to keep skilled employees from taking proprietary knowledge to a competing business, these kinds of restrictions for low-wage workers—who clearly lack such skills or knowledge — is nothing more than an effort to suppress wages by limiting these workers’ options.

Unfortunately, some industries have upped the ante from non-competes and are increasingly using another stealth tactic to limit employees’ job mobility: no-poaching agreements.

These agreements take non-competes one step further and prohibit employees of one franchise location from taking a job with another franchise of the same company. In other words, a McDonald’s in downtown Raleigh could prohibit an employee from leaving to work at a different McDonald’s franchise in Southeast Raleigh. Even more troubling, workers may not even be aware when accepting a job that future job opportunities are restricted by these agreements, which are signed between employers.

Because the fast food industry has become a chronic abuser of no-poaching agreements,  on March 12, North Carolina joined 12 other states and the District of Columbia in reaching a settlement with Arby’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys, and Little Caesars.  Those restaurants have agreed not to include no-poaching clauses in their franchise agreements, to remove them from existing agreements, and not to enforce such clauses.  Investigations are continuing into Burger King, Popeyes, and Panera.

This agreement follows a major effort by the Washington attorney general resulting in no-poaching clauses in franchise agreements nationwide with a wide range of companies, well beyond the fast food industry.  The most recent agreement included Einstein Bros. Bagel, Express Employment Professionals, FASTSIGNS, L&L Franchising, The Maids, Westside Pizza and Zeek’s Pizza, bringing the total number of companies affected to 57.

Employees interested in learning their rights with respect to non-compete agreements can find information here.

Carol Brooke is a senior attorney with the N.C. Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project. 

Commentary

Desperate for excuses, NC Senate Republican leaders try new ploy to forestall closing Medicaid gap

You’ve got to hand it to North Carolina Senate Republicans: just when it looked like they’d all but run out of excuses in their costly and deadly crusade to keep a half-million North Carolinians from obtaining health insurance, they’ve manufactured a new and preposterous one out of whole cloth.

In case you missed the whole silly charade, it happened on Wednesday when the Republicans voted to “table” a proposed Democratic amendment to a health bill. The amendment would have provided for the Medicaid expansion that’s so long overdue in the state. After the vote, some Republicans advanced the silly claim that because the amendment was “tabled,” Senate rules technically proscribe the consideration of the matter for the rest of the legislative session. Medicaid expansion, therefore, is “dead” for 2019, went the argument.

This claim is, in a word, preposterous. What’s next — a claim that Sen. Phil Berger’s dog ate his copy of the proposal?

Senate “rules” are not laws or constitutional provisions. They are merely self-imposed guidelines that are waived and/or suspended every day. As Sen. Jay Chaudhuri pointed out, the Senate suspended its rules earlier this week in order to speed passage of new voter ID legislation.

If someone ever wanted to attempt to invoke such a rule later in the 2019 session in an effort to prevent a vote on Medicaid expansion and it was somehow adjudged to be a proper motion, the rule could be easily waived.

The bottom line: As Sen. Minority Leader Dan Blue told WRAL’s Travis Fain, “This rule is not going to keep us from debating the issues that are important to North Carolinians. Nothing has changed. If it’s going to take Medicaid expansion to pass a budget, it will take Medicaid expansion. … If they want to expand Medicaid and this rule is in the way, you suspend the rule.”

Blue is absolutely right. Republicans are not going to be able to deny the overwhelming will of the people (a recent Meredith College poll found that North Carolinians support Medicaid expansion by a margin of better than four-to-one) by invoking obscure parliamentary rules. At some point in 2019, Republicans are going to have to come around on this issue. The people and simple justice demand it.