Regarding my 16 years as N.C. Labor Commissioner and my candidacy for election to that office again, I would like to point out that I assembled one of the finest staffs ever in the Department of Labor ("The Indy endorses in runoffs," June 4). My assistant commissioner for the entire 16 years, Charles Jeffress, subsequently became U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.
Following the 1991 fire in Hamlet, N.C., at the Imperial Foods Plant that occurred in an unregistered plant that was therefore unlisted by the Secretary of State for inspection, I adopted the N.C. Building Code as an OSHA standard so that state OSHA inspectors would have the authority to cite violations such as the locked exit doors that caused most of the loss of life.
Harry Payne, my successor, withdrew the new standard before its effective date. My opponent in this election was Payne's policy advisor, and there is no evidence that she did anything to change the Department of Labor's ability to rectify any of the conditions that caused the Hamlet tragedy. The exact same conditions can exist today; and if the same events occurred, the result very likely would be the same.
While I was commissioner, the department had the highest collection rate of OSHA fines in the nation, and twice the rate of collection by the federal government. I adopted a special emphasis program requiring the inspection of every licensed poultry processing plant in North Carolina every year, years prior to the Hamlet fire. I also adopted a blood-borne disease standard to curb illnesses arising from the handling of contaminated blood, and required that every migrant housing camp be inspected yearly. During my administration, the department had a strong record of labor law enforcement.
If people want a labor commissioner with the courage and expertise to improve the working conditions of North Carolina's labor force, John Brooks is the man.
John C. Brooks