Name as it appears on the ballot: Charles Meeker
Campaign Web Site: www.charlesmeeker.org
Phone Number: (919) 348-9861
Years lived in State: 40 years
1. Most Important Issues. The most important issues are (a) seeing to it that employees are paid wages that they are owed, (b) ensuring that workers are correctly classified as employees, not independent contractors, so they receive benefits, and (c) enhancing worker safety.
When an employee is not paid, the Department of Labor should take decisive steps, including the filing of lawsuits if necessary. When an employee is misclassified, there may be violations of wage and hour rules as to minimum wages and overtime. Any such misclassification should also be reported to the Department of Revenue and the Industrial Commission so that other benefits will be provided. Finally, better education of employers and more training for employees, particularly on hazardous equipment, will improve worker safety. Safety needs to be a major focus of the Department of Labor.
2. Record as Public Official. I served as Mayor of Raleigh for ten years from 2001 until 2011. Through collaborative leadership, the City was able to make progress on downtown redevelopment, expansion of our parks and greenways, and sustainability initiatives. A leader’s role is to define shared goals, identify practical steps to accomplish those goals, and to encourage everyone to work together. When good things are happening in the public and private sectors, teamwork is involved.
3. Workplace Fatalities. There were 109 workplace fatalities in 2013, and 128 such fatalities in 2014. The figures from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics are not out for 2015.
The North Carolina Department of Labor only reports some of these fatalities, leaving out workers who were classified as independent contractors, employees’ deaths that were investigated by the Federal government, and workers killed while driving on the job. The Department’s figures, needless to say, are incomplete. Please see Item 1 above for my recommendations on what to do.
I would also convene on a regular basis the Safety Advisory Council to review trends in accidents and ways to avoid those accidents. Under the current Commissioner, that Council did not meet for five years, even though the Council is required by statute to meet at least twice a year.
4. Wage Theft. When an employer says it cannot pay wages owed, that is when debt collection begins. The Department should consider consent judgments, liens on assets, and lawsuits in appropriate cases.
5. Payroll Fraud. In addition to following up on complaints, when a company is found to have misclassified one employee, the Department of Labor should audit the company to see if other employees are misclassified. In addition to addressing wage and hour violations presented by misclassification, the Department should also report such misclassifications to State departments who have jurisdiction over other benefits.
6. Safety Advisory Council. The State Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health needs to be meet more than twice a year, preferably quarterly. The current Commissioner did not convene the Council for over five years. The public’s recourse for the Commissioner’s failure to perform this part of the job is to elect a new Commissioner of Labor.
7. Unemployment Insurance. North Carolina should have unemployment insurance that is equal to the national average. Training and retraining opportunities should be available at minimal costs. The General Assembly’s approach on these issues on recent years has not been fair to workers in North Carolina.
8. a. Jobs: Our job creation has lagged behind the national average, and many of the jobs created have been low-wage jobs. We need to focus on excellent education in public schools through teacher salaries at the national average, and full funding for our community colleges and universities. A well-educated, well-trained work force is the most effective economic development approach.
b. Workplace Health: Inspection and testing are required here. The Department’s practices in these areas need to be reviewed, and more field work need to be undertaken. See Migrant and Farmworker Labor.
c. Migrant and Farmworker Labor: All farmworker housing should be inspected prior to use each year, and periodic inspections should occur during the working season. While working in North Carolina, migrants should receive the same protection as other workers.
9. Collective Bargaining. North Carolina is a “right to work” State, so such bargaining is not permitted now and is not likely to be permitted by the General Assembly. As Mayor, I followed the “meet and confer” approach with association leaders when issues arose. This process helped resolve a number of issues involving Raleigh’s Sanitation Workers in the 2005-2007.
10. Labor Department Staffing. The Labor Department is understaffed, and several wage and hour positions have not been filled. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that the General Assembly is going to provide additional resources. Hence, the new Commissioner needs to work to see that all positions are filled and that the Department’s 350 employees are as productive as possible.
11. Campaign Contributions. Company and business contributions are not permitted under North Carolina law. In terms of business executives, my approach will be not to accept such contributions if that business has or has had a matter before the Department in the past year. It has been reported that the current Commissioner has accepted business-related contributions after reducing fines for safety violations. Such an approach is unacceptable, and leads to the public’s lack of confidence in the independence of the Commissioner.
Charles C. Meeker