Commentary, News

AFL-CIO unveils its 2019 “Good Jobs Policy Agenda”

The good people at the North Carolina AFL-CIO are unveiling the group’s “Good Jobs Policy Agenda” for 2019 today at a conference in Raleigh that Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to attend and address.

Among the highlights of the agenda:

  • Raising our poverty-level state minimum wage, as a majority of states have done.
  • Raising the wage for tipped workers, which is currently a paltry $2.13/hour.
  • Adding public school employees to the list of state employees who are entitled to a minimum wage of $15/hour.
  • Improving our laws to better eliminate the deliberate “misclassification” of workers as independent contractors—a practice that cheats employees as well as lawful employers, and it also cheats our state government out of tax revenue.
  • Restoring the level and duration of unemployment benefits, now that the Trust Fund is more than solvent, so that they are no longer among the lowest in the country.
  • Allowing municipalities to require employers in their communities, and particularly contractors doing work for those municipalities, to pay more than the state minimum wage, or to require workplace benefits or safeguards greater than what state law requires.
  • Requiring employers that receive tax incentives to provide jobs that will raise, not lower, the standard of living of working families.
  • Restoring the film industry rebate program to expand film jobs in our state.
  • Making employers that relocate call centers overseas ineligible for state subsidies and requiring that call center work contracted by or for state agencies be performed within our state.
  • Requiring that domestic and agricultural workers be covered by minimum wage, overtime, and recording-keeping laws. Maintaining a stable workers’ compensation system that pays adequate benefits to those injured on the job. This includes increasing the maximum allowable amount for permanent injury to body parts including the heart, lungs, and brain—a maximum that has not be raised in a quarter century, and creating certain presumptions for firefighters injured in the line of duty.
  • Requiring employers to provide work breaks—something not currently required under state law.
  • Requiring two-person crews on trains and creating strong penalties for those who assault transportation employees on the job.
  • Ensuring workplace safety for all workers, including our migrant workers. Guaranteeing a minimum number of paid sick days for workers to care for themselves and their loved ones, including expanding the definition of “family” in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to allow leave to care for siblings, grandparents or grandchildren, while preserving the exemption for family farms.
  • Providing funding for child care subsidies to offset costs of affordable, quality childcare for low income workers and those pursuing education and training.
  • Creating work-sharing programs that will keep people employed, preserve the skills of our workers, and reduce both lay-offs and costs to employers.

The agenda also includes a number of other important recommendations, including supporting public education, healthcare for all, an end to big money domination of our elections. Click here to read the entire list.

News

North Carolinians reflect on the life, legacy of Congressman Walter Jones

Congressman Walter Jones Jr., who served in Congress and the state legislature for over 34 years, died Sunday on his 76th birthday.

The long-serving Republican was a fiscal hawk who repeatedly spoke out against the war in Afghanistan.

In a 2013 interview with NC Policy Watch, Jones discussed the debt ceiling, gun control, immigration, and the damaging influence of Citizens United. Click below to listen to that interview:

Here’s how North Carolina’s top elected officials are remembering Congressman Jones:

“Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr. was the true embodiment of a public servant. He will be long remembered for his tireless advocacy for Eastern North Carolina, which he loved dearly, and for always following his convictions, no matter the political cost. He always did what he felt was right for his constituents, his district, and his country, and it was no wonder why he was so widely admired and trusted. It was a true honor to serve with Walter Jones. Susan and I send our deepest condolences to Joe Anne and his loving family.”
– U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of a long time leader, proud North Carolinian, a devoted family man of deep faith, and my friend of over forty years- Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr.

“Congressman Jones represented the best of North Carolina politics. He understood that being a leader meant often putting political allegiances aside in order to bring people together around important work. He was a proud representative of eastern North Carolina, and the residents of North Carolina’s Third Congressional District are better off thanks to the lifelong service and dedication of Walter Jones.

“To serve alongside Walter Jones was a great honor and privilege. Let us honor Walter Jones’ service to our country and the profound leadership he offered eastern North Carolina. I will miss his humility, intellect, and unwavering love of his community.

“I send my condolences to his wife Joe Anne, his daughter Ashley, and all those who had the honor of knowing and benefitting from the work of Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr. Rest in peace, my friend.”
– Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)

“Walter Jones was one of a kind. He served with conviction, humility, generosity and kindness. My condolences to Jo Anne and the Jones family.”
– Congressman Mark Walker (NC-06)

“Renee and I join so many of our fellow North Carolinians in mourning the passing of my friend Congressman Walter Jones. He was a man of character and strong faith who served his country honorably— he will indeed be missed.”
– Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-08)

“Deeply saddened by the passing of Walter Jones—a beloved colleague and friend who had a profound impact on all through his graciousness, character, and committed Christian faith. God be with and keep his family. We will miss him.”
– Congressman Mark Meadows (NC-11)

– Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12)

“I am grateful for the life and service of my longtime friend Congressman Walter Jones Jr. He was a public servant who was true to his convictions and who will be missed.”
– Governor Roy Cooper

“I’m proud to serve the same state as the late Congressman Walter Jones, an immovable advocate for eastern North Carolinians and our armed forces who set a strong example of civil discourse & principled leadership in Washington D.C. for a quarter-century. ”
– NC House Speaker Tim Moore

“Whether serving in Raleigh or DC, Jones’ first priority was always eastern NC.
He was an increasingly rare kind to stand alone on an issue that, while not popular, he saw as right. My prayers are with his family.”
– Senator Dan Blue

“Congressman Walter Jones was a passionate patriot willing to fight for sometimes unpopular causes while remaining a humble & approachable statesman. I appreciate his lifetime of service and offer my condolences to his family and constituents. We are better having known you.”
– Rep. David Lewis

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, immigration, News

ICE admits ramping up NC immigration enforcement in response to urban areas not working with them

The historic Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids this week were not a fluke — they were a direct result of refusals in urban North Carolina counties, like Mecklenburg, Wake, Orange and Durham counties, to work with the federal agency.

ICE Atlanta field office Director Sean Gallagher told reporters Friday morning that the more than 200 people arrested this week across the state is “the new normal.” He said specifically that the decisions in Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties to end their 287g programs — a voluntary partnership to help ICE with immigration enforcement — led to agents having to actively seek undocumented immigrants there.

“This is politics over public safety at its worst,” he said at the press conference, which was reported on by several media outlets across the state, including the Charlotte Observer.

Durham Sheriff Clarence Birkhead and Wake Sheriff Gerald Baker could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said ending 287g, which he did on the first day he took office, was not political for him. He’s passionate about fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves.

“The problem with ICE is they want to make it seem like I don’t want to prosecute crimes,” he said, explaining how his law enforcement background contradicts that (he worked homicide cases for 22 years).

McFadden said he believes ICE’s actions this week have been in response to his agency sending them new policies and procedures in the wake of ending their 287g agreement.

“People are still being arrested for crimes,” he said. “I just choose not to come and work with you.”

ICE agents are still welcome in Mecklenburg’s detention center, and they still have access to the information local law enforcement has access to, but McFadden said he’s not going to have his employees do the federal agencies job for them by housing undocumented immigrants who are otherwise supposed to be released.

He pointed out that he doesn’t have anything to do with releasing someone from a facility — bail is set by judges, magistrates and prosecutors.

Sheriff Garry McFadden

ICE held the press conference in McFadden’s county while he was attending a conference in Washington D.C. He said it was meant to get people into an uproar, but he will continue to stand firm.

“They’re scared for somebody to stand up who knows the law and knows their job,” he said of ICE. “I have something they want, and they’re trying to make me play in their sandbox, and I don’t want to play.”

His office also implemented a policy requesting ICE notify them when they show up at the county courthouse so that deputies could monitor their actions. That was done after some ICE agents came into the courthouse, hid their badges and pulled hoodies over their head and mingled in a hallway until a defendant they were looking for came out of a courtroom. The defendant was wearing a suit and tie and was bombarded by the agents, who didn’t identify themselves until they were asked several times who they were.

McFadden said he has no qualms with helping ICE when they are protecting all communities from violent crimes at all levels without targeting just one demographic. He’s focused on reform, and he will continue to stand for change for future generations regardless of ICE’s apparent retaliation.

“In order to be different, in order to bring justice, in order to bring awareness – and it’s something all great leaders have done – you have to stand firm, you have to take the beatings,” he said.

And there could be more ‘beatings’ to come. Gallagher said ICE will continue their enforcement efforts and won’t turn a blind eye to other undocumented family members or friends in the wrong place at the wrong time during targeted operations. He said they conduct operations at courthouses, during traffic stops and at the homes of people they believed to be undocumented immigrants.

Until the press conference Friday, ICE officials had refused to give any specific information about the raids being reported across the state. The raids, according to Gallagher, were unrelated to the undocumented individuals arrested at a gun manufacturing plant Tuesday in Sanford.

Of at least 200 of the other immigrants ICE arrested this week, nearly one-third taken into custody are what the agency calls “collateral:” immigrants who are living here illegally but lack any kind of criminal conviction or pending charges, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Gallagher said 50 of those 200 taken into custody had prior criminal convictions — though he did not say for what types of crimes — and 40 had pending criminal charges. Another 50, he added, had re-entered the country illegally after a prior deportation. About 60 were individuals who weren’t targeted but who were in the vicinity during raids.

Another urban area he criticized in the press conference was Orange county, although Sheriff Charles Blackwood doesn’t really understand why — they never participated in a 287g program. He said ICE is going to do their job, and the only thing Orange County won’t do is honor their detainers, because they don’t have the authority to enforce federal law.

Detainers are documents that essentially ask local sheriffs and jails to hold on to undocumented immigrants for ICE even if they’re supposed to be released on the local level. The documents aren’t orders and they’re not signed by judges — they are requests from ICE.

Blackwood said ICE is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country and have plenty of people to do their work without asking sheriff’s and counties do their jobs for them.

McFadden said there are still a number of ways in which his agency works with ICE, including sharing fingerprints, honoring criminal warrants signed by judicial officials, verifying individuals’ legal status for felonies and impaired driving offenses and notifying the federal agency about criminal ICE warrants.

Gallagher’s insinuation, he said in a release, that dangerous people were walking out of jails because of the end of 287g programs is engaging in cynical fear mongering. In a phone interview, he compared ICE’s press conference to a gnat, and said he would still go about doing his job the way it needed to be done without being bothered by it.

“I’m still going to eat, but every now and then you have to shoo a gnat away,” he said. He added later, “This fight is not for everybody but I’m here to stay.”

News

New interim chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill no stranger to faculty, student tensions

Kevin Guskiewicz, newly appointed interim chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

When Kevin Guskiewicz was named interim chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill this week, he was hardly an unknown quantity.

Guskiewicz joined the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1995 and has been dean of the College of Arts & Sciences since 2016.

In that role he’s been no stranger to tensions between faculty, students and administration.

Guskiewicz has been criticized by students for what they say is a weak response on two sexual misconduct allegations by the founder of the Institute of Politics, Tanner Glenn.

As laid out in a recent piece in the student newspaper, The Daily Tarheel, students feel Guskiewicz did not act quickly or seriously enough on the allegations – and didn’t do so with transparency.

From the Daily Tarheel story:

 

“During a Dec. 20 phone call that included Guskiewicz, Treul and Ives, Guskiewicz requested a document from the student leadership board outlining all existing issues with Glenn, according to Ives’ notes. The Dean and Treul decided to avoid passing out that document ‘so people could not have some sort of coordinated attack.’

After the phone call, the notes stated that the Dean asked the student leadership board to create a plan for staff by mid-February. Guskiewicz also planned to meet with Glenn that day to ‘talk about the need to think about his next career move and express disappointment that Tanner did not take responsibility for his mistakes.’

Guskiewicz did not respond to a voicemail or emails from the DTH with questions about the IoP’s funding, allegations against Glenn or the student leadership team’s termination vote. ”

 

Last semester, Guskiewicz was drawn into the controversy over the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument that led his predecessor, Carol Folt, to step down from her position.

Guskiewicz and provost Bob Blouin wrote an e-mail discouraging faculty and instructors from supporting the withholding of last semester’s final grades over opposition to the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.

The email warned of legal ramifications if they participated in the protest action.

“We trust that our instructors will not act in a way that harms the interests of students and their families,” they wrote in the letter. “And that these instructors meet the legal, ethical and moral responsibilities for which they have been contracted. Please consider that your failure to meet your responsibilities to your students, including timely submission of final grades, will result in serious consequences.”

Ultimately, the final grades were released in time to avoid any consequences for either students or instructors.

But Guskiewicz’s dust-ups with faculty go back further.

In 2017, he was part of a case wherein a faculty member filed a grievance over being prevented from teaching a class on the history of sports. The class touched on the UNC athletic scandals of recent years.

Though an independent faculty grievance committee at UNC found administrators’ behavior in the case had been “inconsistent” with UNC’s commitment to academic freedom, UNC leaders rejected that committee’s conclusion that administrators had meddled in the affair.

Some faculty members are talking this week about their discomfort with Guskiewicz as interim chancellor – and his announcement that he will seek the position full-time.

But Leslie Parise, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty, provided a statement of support for Guskiewicz on the day of his appointment.

“As a faculty member, Dean of the College, and accomplished researcher, Kevin has shown his ability to work across schools and departments and lead with both compassion and critical thought,” Parise said in her statement. “I know he has the very best interests of our students, faculty and staff in mind and his energy and focus will serve us well.”

How Guskiewicz navigates these ongoing controversies as the school’s new leader remain to be seen.