Protesting NC Labor Commissioner’s Refusal to Protect Workers During the Pandemic, Coalition of Worker and Civil Rights Groups Launches Campaign to Elect Pro-Worker Labor Commissioner Candidate, Jessica Holmes

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.

Progressive Coalition Demands 2020 Candidates Take Bold Action to Empower Workers

Media inquiries: Amy Lebowitz, [email protected], (646) 200-5322

‘New Social Contract for Workers’ Outlines Comprehensive Policy Agenda to Address Crisis of Economic, Racial Inequality

MANCHESTER, NH—A coalition of grassroots and worker rights organizations today released a new national report, The New Social Contract for Workers, calling on elected leaders and candidates to embrace a slate of new public policies to promote workplace democracy and human rights for America’s workers.

Despite a decade of economic growth, most U.S. workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Nearly half of Black and brown workers struggle on less than $15 an hour, while more than half of low-wage workers routinely suffer wage theft or other legal violations. The New Social Contract for Workers calls for re-envisioning our system of labor protections to empower workers and address the extreme racial inequality that characterizes our jobs and workplaces.

The coalition releasing the report includes the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, the Rights & Democracy Institute, the People’s Action Institute, Jobs With Justice, the Center for Popular Democracy, and Caring Across Generations.

The report identifies five bold reforms that the groups argue can provide the foundation for a new social contract for workers: (1) reforming our labor law system to allow “sectoral bargaining” across industries and up supply chains; (2) adopting “just cause” employment to protect workers from arbitrary and abrupt job loss; (3) creating a right to a decent job with a “federal job guarantee”; (4) promoting worker cooperatives to democratize our economy; and (5) new universal guarantees to basic needs such as Medicare for All and Universal Family Care.

In addition to calling for these five transformational policies, the worker groups are urging action on a broader agenda of other badly needed labor reforms. The report catalogs reforms across 13 key areas of worker policy ranging from defending immigrant workers from attacks, to protections for online platform workers, to new worker data privacy and algorithmic accountability standards.

Several of the policies called for, including sectoral bargaining, have started to gain traction with 2020 presidential candidates, some of whom have released bold agendas for protecting workers. But a debate over the need to dramatically reshape our social contract to empower workers in our economy has not yet received high visibility among the more than 20 candidates running for president.

“A New Social Contract is central to our long-term vision to create a future that puts us on a path to creating just, healthy, and thriving communities for everyone. How do we do that? By focusing on bold, community-led solutions that reshape our economy and public policies to put our people and our planet before everything else. Along with Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, a New Social Contract for Workers is the type of bold solution we need to start moving immediately at the local, state, and federal levels,” says James Haslam, executive director of the Rights & Democracy Institute and board member of People’s Action Institute.

“Any presidential candidate who is serious about tackling the crisis of racial and economic inequality in America needs to have a bold agenda to empower workers at the center of their economic plan. More and more of the 2020 candidates are recognizing this, and each and every one of them should be backing a New Social Contract for Workers,” said Paul Sonn, director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund (NELP Action).

“By putting the rights, needs and power of workers at the center of a new social contract, we can build a possible future where democracy is vibrant, our economy is just, racial and gender oppression is dismantled, and all our neighborhoods thrive. This is why our coalition came together to launch this New Social Contract for Workers report and conversation,” said Cathy Albisa, executive director of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI).

“Our economic system is rigged against working people, the vast majority of whom are unable to exercise their collective power. The New Social Contract for Workers provides the fundamental changes we need to our economic system by centering racial, gender, and economic justice, while empowering working people in our democracy,” said Adam Shah, senior policy analyst at Jobs With Justice.

“The people most marginalized by racial capitalism and corporate exploitation should have the biggest role in dreaming up and enacting the structural changes needed to build an economy that works for all of us. When those targeted by injustice are stakeholders and decision-makers in public policy, we come up with solutions that are bold. We address the root cause of inequality, instead of patching over its effects. The New Social Contract is unapologetic in its ambition to address the root causes of racial and economic inequality. Put simply, the New Social Contract is a model for the future of policymaking,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy

“Working families are sinking under the weight of costly care and making impossible sacrifices—including their jobs—just to be there for their loved ones. Transformative public policy like universal family care would finally value the care workers who do the work that makes all other work possible, and provide critical support to millions of caregiving families at every stage of life,” said Josephine Kalipeni, director of policy and federal affairs at Caring Across Generations.

The New Social Contract for Workers will be promoted in a series of events across the country as part of The New Social Contract Tour, which kicks off with a Manchester, New Hampshire town hall on Sunday, September 15th.

As Florida Governor’s and Legislative Races Heat Up, Worker Groups Release Bold Agenda to Bolster Workers’ Pay, Jobs

For Immediate Release: June 7, 2018

With economy growing but paychecks flat, groups say next governor must stand with working people or face political peril

With a high-stakes election around the corner, groups representing Florida’s workers — including the Miami Workers Center, the Florida AFL-CIO, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida and the Farmworker Association of Florida, among others — today released a Florida Workers’ Agenda calling on the next governor and the legislature to take bold action to improve jobs, wages, and working conditions for the state’s workers.

While Florida’s economy has been growing under Rick Scott, pay has been flat and living costs have been rising, leaving millions of families just a missed paycheck away from economic crisis. According to the United Way, 45% of Florida households can’t afford basic necessities. Orlando has the lowest median pay of any metropolitan area in the U.S. And in South Florida, poverty-wage jobs and rising housing costs are squeezing families hard.

Weak worker protections are a big part of the problem. Florida’s minimum wage is just $8.25 an hour, and has increased only 90 cents since 2009. And workers who are cheated in their paychecks, injured on the job, or laid off are left stranded. Florida has no state wage enforcement agency. Its unemployment insurance program is the stingiest in the U.S. And its workers comp protections for injured workers have been declared unconstitutionally inadequate by the Florida Supreme Court.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates are meeting to debate in St. Petersburg on June 9 and in Miramar on June 11. The Republican candidates are debating in Tampa on June 28.

The Florida Workers’ Agenda outlines key reforms that the next governor—or the governor together with the legislature—should take to protect working families. The recommendations include:

  • Backing a 2020 ballot initiative to gradually raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • Fighting attempts by the legislature to tie the hands of cities and counties from addressing worker needs
  • Getting the state back in the business of fighting wage theft by establishing state wage enforcement programs at the Department of Economic Opportunity and attorney general’s office
  • Fixing the state’s stingy unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation systems, which no longer provide meaningful safety nets for jobless and injured workers
  • Tackling the health and safety threats facing Florida’s workers, especially farmworkers
  • Promoting access to jobs for qualified workers with arrest or conviction records by “banning the box” in state hiring
  • Defending workers’ right to organize and join unions, and promoting decent pay for public servants like teachers and airport workers
  • Protecting immigrant workers
  • Fighting for workers’ civil rights and fighting forced arbitration of worker complaints
  • Opposing a ballot proposal to require a supermajority vote of the legislature to raise revenue in the future

“All Floridians deserve wages and conditions that reflect the value of their hard work and gives them the financial freedom to achieve their dreams,” said Moné Holder, senior program director for policy, advocacy & research at New Florida Majority (NewFM). “Working class families, especially communities of color that have been systematically kept at the margins, demand fair economic policies and lawmakers who will fight for our basic human rights and support an agenda that protects Florida’s workers.”

“The Florida AFL-CIO supports this worker agenda because it transcends the usual glittering generalities and broad attacks typically seen during elections season. The policies outlined in this agenda provide a framework for Florida’s struggling workers to meaningfully participate in our economy and hold decision makers accountable,” said Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy of the Florida AFL-CIO. Templin continued: “Florida’s workers and our economy deserve an unemployment insurance system that isn’t the worst in the nation, a workers’ compensation system that puts workers and employers over insurance profits, and local governments that are empowered to do what’s needed in their communities without the burdens of legislative preemption. The policy solutions in this agenda are vital for our state’s future and must be a part of the public discourse during this pivotal election season.”

“When workers in Florida don’t get paid or are mistreated, today they have nowhere to turn. Disproportionately affected are low-wage earning women of color, many of whom are the main breadwinners for their families,” said Marcia Olivo, executive director of the Miami Workers Center. “We need leadership that recognizes that fair pay and a safe workplace are essential to helping Florida’s families succeed and growing the state’s economic future. And nowhere is that leadership need more than in the governor’s office.”

“Workers are on the front lines of serving our communities’ needs every single day. They need to be the priority to ensure a thriving state with healthy families. It’s far past time elected officials stand with women and families and deliver for those making Florida work,” said Debbie Soto, board president of Organize Florida.

“Farmworkers do the essential work of feeding us.  They endure sweltering heat, biting insects, exposure to toxic agricultural chemicals, and dangers from accidents with unsafe farm equipment and hazardous workplace conditions, all in order to provide us cheap, affordable food in our grocery stores.  For the work they do, they deserve decent, livable wages; strong health and safety protections; and freedom from harassment, abuse, threats and retaliation.  Their lives and our food depend upon it,” said Tirso Moreno, general coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida.

“As an organization that defends the rights of low-wage and immigrant workers, Community Justice Project is in full support of this important agenda. We know all too well that workers in our communities are dealing with low wages, widespread wage theft, unjust work conditions, and continuous attacks on their right to organize. We need and deserve an economy that works for all of us,” said Oscar Londoño, Skadden Fellow & attorney with the Community Justice Project.

“From wage enforcement to unemployment insurance to workers comp, Florida’s protections for workers are today some of the weakest in all the 50 states,” said Paul Sonn, director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund. “Florida’s working families deserve a governor who will fight for them by promoting good jobs with fair pay and safe workplaces for the state’s eight million workers.”

The groups releasing the agenda include:

Advocacy Partners Team

Community Justice Project

Farmworker Association of Florida

Florida AFL-CIO

Florida Immigrant Coalition

Miami Workers Center

National Employment Law Project Action Fund

New Florida Majority

Organize Florida

South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice

We Count


Elbert Garcia, New Florida Majority, [email protected] or (786) 505-1963

David Fernandez, Florida AFL-CIO, [email protected] or (850) 570-9953

Anna Susman, Berlin-Rosen, [email protected] or (646) 200-5285