Raleigh, North Carolina – Last week North Carolina’s Labor Commissioner helped kill a proposed executive order to protect meatpacking and farmworkers — the Labor Commissioner’s latest refusal to act to protect workers from COVID-19 during the pandemic. The action comes as a coalition of worker and racial justice groups launches a public education campaign highlighting the Labor Commissioner’s failures – and calling for the election of Jessica Homes in November as the new Labor Commission. Holmes has a long record of fighting for working families and has pledged strong action to protect North Carolina’s workers during the pandemic.
“While states like Virginia are making sure employers protect workers from COVID-19 on the job, North Carolina’s Labor Commissioner and legislature have done nothing during the pandemic – or frankly before it – to keep the state’s workers safe. North Carolina needs a labor commissioner like Jessica Holmes who will be a champion for working families,” said Phaedra Jackson, Deputy Campaigns Director for Working America.
North Carolina’s current labor commissioner, Cherie Berry, is retiring. Democratic Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes and Republican state Representative Josh Dobson are running to replace her. North Carolina is one of just a few states where voters elect the state labor commissioner directly. Dobson has praised Berry’s record and said he would continue her approach.
The current Labor Commissioner and the Republican-led legislature in which Dobson serves have done little to protect the state’s more than 4 million workers from COVID-19. The Labor Commissioner has received over 700 COVID-19-related safety and health complaints from terrified workers but has not inspected a single workplace during the pandemic and instead closed every case. As a result, COVID-19 has spread like wildfire through workplaces like poultry and meat processing plants that weren’t taking necessary precautions to protect their workers.
Unlike Virginia, North Carolina’s Labor Commissioner has refused to issue COVID-19 workplace standards to require employers to keep workers safe. Because President Trump’s US Department of Labor has also refused to issue COVID-19 workplace standards, North Carolina workers have no protections as they return to work.
The coalition launching the public education campaign to elect Jessica Holmes includes Advance Carolina, the North Carolina Association of Educators, Working America, BlackPAC, Poder NC Action, the Carolina Federation, and the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.
“As schools reopen, educators are on the frontlines of the COVID crisis. But the Labor Commissioner’s refusal to keep workers in schools and across the state safe is endangering all of us. We need a Labor Commissioner like Jessica Holmes who will protect workers during the pandemic and help get everyone back to work once it’s over,” said Rukiya Dillahunt, education and labor activist with the North Carolina Association of Educators.
“Black workers in frontline jobs and their families are being put in danger by the Labor Commissioner’s refusal to do her job as COVID-19 has spread in workplaces across our State. Josh Dobson says he’ll continue the current approach if he is elected to replace her– which means further harm to the most critical employees in North Carolina. To keep workers safe we need a Labor Commissioner like Jessica Holmes who will protect workers during the pandemic and beyond, rather than maintaining the status quo,” said Marcus Bass, Executive Director of Advance North Carolina.
Black and Latinx workers in North Carolina have been hurt most by the Labor Commissioner’s refusal to act. They are the frontline and essential workers who have been put at greatest risk during the pandemic — and they make up a large share of workers in workplaces such as meat processing plants whom the Labor Commissioner has failed to protect.
“Workers on farms and in meat and poultry plants are sustaining North Carolinians during the pandemic—yet many of their employers have failed to implement the basic measures needed to protect them at work, resulting in widespread COVID-19 infection at work and putting their communities at risk. It is outrageous that North Carolina’s labor commissioner last week blocked action to protect these workers — and has refused to mandate any COVID-19 standards for employers. That’s why North Carolina voters need to elect Jessica Holmes in November to keep the state’s workers safe,” said Debbie Berkowitz, Health and Safety Program Director at the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.
Dobson and the other leaders of the North Carolina legislature have blocked efforts to protect workers during the pandemic and for years before. They gave corporations that get their workers sick immunity from being held responsible. They refused to raise the state’s $7.25 minimum wage or to guarantee paid sick days for North Carolina workers, and blocked cities from taking action to help workers.
Jessica Holmes, by contrast, is a labor and employment law attorney who has spent her career advocating for workers. After being elected as the youngest ever member of Wake County’s Board of Commissioner, she passed living wage, paid family leave and fair hiring rules for county and school employees. Holmes has pledged that as Labor Commissioner she will take action to protect North Carolinians during the pandemic and afterwards. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as a state labor commissioner.
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Paid for by National Employment Law Project Action Fund, a project of Tides Advocacy. Not authorized by a candidate.