Name as it Appears on the Ballot: John C. Brooks
Full Legal Name: John Charles Brooks
Date of Birth: January 10, 1937
Campaign Website: www.brookslaborcomm.com
Occupation & Employer: Attorney, self-employed.
Years lived in North Carolina: 70.
1. What do you see as the most important issues facing the Department of Labor and working people in North Carolina? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
a. Issue 1: Significantly reducing the more than 60,000 workplace injuries and illnesses occurring in N.C. each year.
b. Issue 2: Expanding advanced high-skill training in N.C. into career classifications not presently being taught anywhere in the State through new offerings within the community college system and on-the-job training through apprenticeships, and promoting completion of apprenticeships in existing programs.
c. Issue 3: Support for expanded federal-financing of U.S. labor programs such as the Occupational Safety and Health Program and for the federal proposal to increase the federal minimum wage by 85 cents an hour each of the next three years followed by indexing the minimum wage to inflation. [N.C. law currently provides that the state minimum wage will at least equal the federal minimum wage.]
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.
a. Issue 1: As staff attorney at the N.C. Industrial Commission in the N.C. Department of Commerce, during the past eight years I have thoroughly reviewed more than 40,000 individual proposed settlement agreements for claims arising out of workplace injuries and illnesses for the purpose of representing the State’s agreement with the “fairness” of the proposed settlement agreements, with the result that at the present time I am the most knowledgeable person in N.C. about where workplace injuries and illness have been taking place, their severity, and the related medical costs incurred. With this knowledge I can better focus the resources available to the N.C. Department of Labor upon the places giving rise to so many of these injuries and illnesses. Unfortunately, this information is not currently available to the Dept. of Labor.
b. Issue 2: As a former president of the National Apprenticeship Program I am knowledgeable about the potential for apprenticeship training in N.C. As a former N.C. Commissioner of Labor I successfully expanded the apprenticeship program in this State and insisted that the federally required provision of 144 hours of related instruction each year for each indentured apprentice be in fact provided and accounted for. While Commissioner, the Department of Labor promotional dinners had as quest speakers such advocates as Hillary Clinton.
c. As Commissioner and as president of the National Association of Governmental Labor Officials I was outspoken in behalf of three successful campaigns for increasing the minimum wage.
3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a Democrat who embraces both the N.C. and National Democratic Platforms. I strongly support all levels of public education and expanded opportunities for vocational education. I am a member of the State Democratic Party Executive Committee. I was a staff member of former Governor Terry Sanford. My platform is reflected in issues set forth above.
4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.
The endorsement of my campaign by the North Carolina Advocates for Justice is recognition of my commitment to furthering inclusiveness in our society by preparing our workers for better-paying jobs and opening our public universities to everyone by reducing tuition to affordable levels.
5. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
a. Issue 1: I fully support the federal proposal to increase the federal minimum wage as set forth above. The increase would automatically increase the N.C. minimum wage.
b. Issue 2: If N.C. allows fracking in N.C., I would require full disclosure of all chemicals used in the process and in all clean-up activities both to all workers and the general public.
6. If these issues haven’t been addressed above, would you please comment on:
a. Jobs: Access North Carolina’s efforts in creating jobs and decreasing unemployment for the past four years? Where have we had successes? Where can we do better? How? Additionally, when it comes to underemployment, what steps should your department should be taking to help the working people of North Carolina “move up the ladder” i.e., secure and retain better jobs at better pay?
North Carolina is on the right path with regard to bio-technology. The State’s activities in this field are proto types of what this State should be doing in dozens of other fields. The State is primarily successful in recruiting low-wage jobs due to the State’s having so large an untrained workforce. N.C. desperately needs to invest significantly more in advanced high-skill technical training. This will require the State to recognize that the per-student cost of such high-skill training costs much more than the educational costs of teaching liberal arts students.
b. Workplace health: Evaluate the performance of N.C. employers in adhering to OHSA and providing a safe workplace. Are workers getting all the information they need? What changes would you make to the Labor Department’s practices in this area? What policy changes would you advocate at the General Assembly? What is the best way to ensure that these plans quickly come into compliance? What is the role of financial penalties in forcing companies to comply with the law?
Most employers with 50 or more employees have full-time safety personnel who provide employees with information and oversee specific safety and health programs because these employers have learned, sometimes as a result of costly experience, that success in avoiding workplace injuries and illnesses means the difference to whether their bottom line is positive or negative. The employers with fewer than 50 employees that do not have full-time safety personnel most often suffer the consequences of costly accidents and illnesses in their workplaces. The N.C. Department of Labor should focus more resources on helping these employers and their employees understand safer work procedures. The Department has available educational, consultative, and enforcement personnel to assist with this endeavor. Since I am at present the most informed person in the State about where workplace injuries and illnesses have been occurring, their severity, and health costs, I will be able to “hit the road running” as the State’s Labor Commissioner in re-focusing the resources of the Department on the worst-first challenges.
c. Migrant, farmworker labor: In October, Legal Aid of NC filed a complaint with the federal labor department stating that our state department isn’t making sure that workers receive adequate living facilities and is not doing enough to address safety violations? Do you agree? Why or why not, and if so, what should be done to correct this? What does farmworker justice mean to you and what would you do to provide it?
As a former Commissioner of Labor I adopted the State’s first standard for migrant farmworker housing. This standard included requirements for drinking water and hot water for bathing. I implemented a program that required the inspection of every occupied migrant farmworker housing location in N.C. each year. I read of the action filed by Legal Aid of N.C. with the federal labor department. I have no first-hand knowledge about what the N.C. Department of Labor is now doing with regard to migrant farmworkers, but I have confidence in the work of Legal Aid and am saddened to hear of their assessment about the N.C. Department of Labor. This situation is one that I would quickly review upon election as the State’s Commissioner of Labor.
d. Amendment One: What impact will this issue have on business in North Carolina? What’s your position on the matter?
Although I have a degree in economics, I do not know the answer to this question. This issue is entirely a legislative issue and not one confronting the State Department of Labor.
7. Should public employees have the right to bargain collectively in North Carolina? Why or why not and what would you do, if elected, to advocate for or against collective bargaining?
I continue to fully support the N.C. and national Democratic Party Platforms on this set of Issues. If elected Commissioner of Labor I will recognize the make-up of the North Carolina legislature and spend time and resources lobbying for those things that I believe can be realistically achieved for North Carolina’s working women and men.
8. Describe the impact of the current funding shortfalls in Raleigh on the compliance division and the wage and hour bureau. Are those units adequately staffed, and what ratio of inspectors to workers is ideal? If not, what more funding is needed and what will you do to secure it from the General Assembly? If so, how do you make sure that the caseload is appropriate and that your inspectors don’t get burned out?
The N.C. Department of Labor has never been adequately funded. The last session of the General Assembly cut the Department’s budget $650,000, or another 13 positions. This cut is aggravated by the fact that federal law says that all federal grants to the N.C. Department of Labor must be matched with state dollars. The OSHA program is 50-50 federal funded. The Wage and Hour Division is fully-funded with state dollars. If one strives to save federal OSHA dollars by cutting the Wage and Hour program, then complaints to the Wage and Hour Division get pushed back even more. Since state law provides that the OSHA division can’t spend state dollars that are not matched with federal dollars, the impending federal across-the-board budget cut, may significantly cut into the state’s OSHA budget and program. The upshot of this is that the Commissioner of Labor needs to strongly lobby for adequate state funds for the Department. The OSHA enforcement staff should be doubled next year. If it is doubled, it still will not be large enough for this State; however, this would be a reasonable next step in light of the fact that the Department now has a limited staff to train new inspectors and a doubling of the staff is all that it could manage in the first year of an expansion. In addition, such an expansion would require both additional appropriations of equal amounts by the N.C. legislature and the U.S. Congress.
9. What’s your philosophy on campaign contributions? Will you accept donations from companies that you later will be charged with overseeing? If so, what will you do to make sure each business is treated equally?
No, I do not accept contributions from companies that I would be overseeing a Commissioner of Labor.
10. If there is something you wish to address about your candidacy and this office that we have not asked, please do so here.
North Carolina law designates the Commissioner of Labor as the mediator of labor disputes occurring in the State. I am an attorney and am an experienced mediator. I am a member of the American Bar Association and its Section on Employment and Labor Law.
In N.C. the Commissioner of Labor is a member of the Council of State and the Capitol Planning Commission as well as a member of the N.C. Indian Commission. As a former Commissioner of Labor I had a near perfect attendance record with each of these bodies and had reviewed carefully their agendas, preparing me for the business to be transacted.