COMMISSIONER OF LABOR
Name as it appears on the ballot: Cherie Berry
Campaign website: cherieberry.com
Phone number: (919) 601-7783
Years lived in the state: Born and raised in North Carolina
What are the three most important labor-related issues facing North Carolina? Please be specific. If elected, what would you do to address these issues?
The most important labor-related issue should always be the safety of workers. That has been my priority since taking office. If re-elected, I will continue to work to keep you and all of your loved ones safe at work. Our current injury and illness rate as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the lowest in the history of the state. Everyone in North Carolina should feel good in knowing that our workplaces are safer than almost every state in the nation.
How does your experience, in politics or otherwise, demonstrate your ability to be an effective Commissioner of Labor? How would that experience benefit North Carolina workers?
Serving as Commissioner of Labor since 2001 has given me the first-hand, on-the-job experience to continue being an effective leader of this department. Before that, four terms in the N.C. House taught me the value of bipartisanship and working with citizens from all backgrounds for a common purpose. I have also been a business owner. Along with my husband, I started a company in Catawba County manufacturing wire-wound spark plug wires for the automotive industry, and that company has now been in business for thirty years. I understand business! I also understand the struggles of single working mothers having been one myself and sometimes living paycheck to paycheck. This lifetime of experience continues to make me the most qualified candidate for Commissioner of Labor.
Currently, the Department of Labor has a Gold Star Grower program to encourage farms to provide adequate housing for migrant workers. Do you believe that this is the best way to encourage compliance with migrant housing laws and regulations? Would you more aggressively pursue compliance with those regulations and laws if elected or reelected?
I think you are asking me if a highly successful voluntary compliance program like our Gold Star Grower Program is more effective than swinging a big regulatory stick and I would say yes. But the Gold Star Program is not to encourage farms to provide adequate housing, it is designed and implemented to recognize farmers for going far above the basic migrant housing standards and providing much more than is required by law. There has to be a balance between voluntary compliance and regulation and we have both. The Migrant Housing Act sets safety and health standards for our visiting workers and if farmers do not comply, we cite them accordingly. But we have hundreds of farmers, representing many commodities, all over our great state who want to provide quality and healthy housing for their visiting workers and we recognize them for going over and above. They understand that if the workers are safe and healthy, and they are happy in their housing, they will be better and more productive workers. I will continue working with the farm labor community and the farming community to grow this program and its positive results.
Do you support North Carolina’s prohibition on collective bargaining rights for public sector employees? Why or why not? Considering that prohibition won’t be lifted anytime soon, how would you ensure that public workers have rights when policy decisions made by the governor or the legislature affect them?
I do support North Carolina’s prohibition on unions for public employees. N.C. public sector employees are given ownership of their positions shortly after coming into the employ of the state and they have more employment rights than most private citizens. In addition a public employees benefits are guaranteed by the full faith of the municipality, county or state agency that employs them. No downturn in the market is going to affect a government retiree’s pension. Finally, state employees have access to a robust benefits package which includes paid vacation, paid sick leave and health insurance which many people in the private sector do not have access to. As a private citizen, I would challenge all other citizens to ask why we would put ourselves in a position to be held hostage by unions who may want to withhold public services for additional benefits.
Identify a principled stance you would willing to take, even if it meant risking re-election the next time you were up for it.
In my years as Commissioner of Labor, I have stood up to extreme overreach and intrusion by the federal government’s efforts to impose a system of crippling penalties on employers instead of the successful education and training programs which I have advocated for and successfully expanded here in North Carolina. The federal government can offer us no evidence that higher penalties increase workplace safety. On the other hand, my efforts to grow our consultation outreach programs have resulted in the lowest injury and illness rates in our state’s history.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
In a just society, workers are compensated for the value of the work they perform. Likewise, employers are obligated to provide a safe and healthy work environment for those employees. The end result is safer workplaces for people to earn a living for their family. This is the environment I have fostered for the last 15 ½ years at the N.C. Department of Labor and I will continue to do so.
Will you commit to not taking donations from companies over which you will have regulatory power as Commissioner of Labor? If not, what will you do to make sure workers at those businesses are protected and other businesses that didn’t donate are treated fairly?
Since I regulate every business in the state that employs workers, and I enforce many workplace fairness laws, by your logic, I should not take a legal campaign contribution from anyone who owns a business nor anyone who works in a business. To that end, I would not be able to accept a contribution from many people. In almost twenty-five years of elective office, I have never allowed a campaign contribution to affect the way I legislate or regulate. Claims to the contrary have never had any merit. Hundreds of thousands of people make legal campaign contributions to candidates every election cycle. Campaign election laws govern who can give and how much they can give. I have complied with all campaign laws since my very first election and the only people who take exception to my campaign finance efforts are political opponents.
Misclassification is a growing issue in American labor. What can the Commissioner of Labor do to make sure employees are classified as employees and not independent contractors? What changes would you advocate for from the General Assembly?
Thank you for asking this question as it allows us to clarify one important point, the N.C. Department of Labor has no statutory authority to regulate the misclassification of an employee. When the discussion on this matter began, I was the first to say that one of the best and most efficient ways to address this matter was to ensure that the Department of Revenue (employment taxes), the Division of Employment Security (unemployment benefits) and the Industrial Commission (workers compensation benefits), were all maximizing their enforcement authority. Their existing laws regulate this problem and their staff and infrastructure is already in place. Therefore, we can address this issue almost immediately without growing government or increasing regulations. I met with the Governor’s Office and principals from each of these agencies on more than one occasion and sure enough, the legislation that almost became law reallocated these existing resources to better coordinate enforcement of existing laws to minimize the occurrence of misclassification. Interestingly, the newspaper industry in this state . . . the very same ones most critical of the practice of misclassification, were the ones who killed the bill to protect a longstanding exemption for newspaper carriers. Ironic.
With regards to workplace safety, do you believe workers are getting all of the support and information they need? Do you feel violators are adequately punished? What changes would you make to NCDOL policies in this area?
The N.C. Department of Labor, in partnership with employers and employees across the state have one of the strongest workplace safety programs, including education, training, technical assistance and consultation, in the country. But there is a lot more that could be done in the area of training. One of the biggest obstacles we deal with is the federal government’s efforts to cut funding for education and training programs.
What is your opinion on the Fight for $15 movement? Do you feel that a $15 minimum wage and paid leave is right for North Carolina? Because these policies likely won’t happen legislatively, is there anything the Department of Labor or other executives can do to encourage businesses to pay their employees higher wages?
I oppose the $15 per hour minimum wage at the federal level because of the economically diverse nature of our country and our state. Millions of people would be impacted negatively, because at that hourly rate, employers will hire the most qualified people. All those who need on-the-job experience in order to be in a positon to seek higher wages in the future, like the chronically unemployed, low skilled teenagers, less skilled immigrants, ex-offenders, etc., would be impacted. They could not climb the ladder of success because without on-the-job experience they cannot get to the first rung of the ladder.
The most contentious issue of this year has been HB 2, but an oft-overlooked part of it affects labor. In your words, how does HB 2 affect North Carolina workers? Do you believe that HB 2 should be repealed? Should cities have the ability to set their own minimum wages?
HB 2 was an over-reaction by the legislature to an over-reaction by the Charlotte City Council. I believe that HB2 should be repealed and the Charlotte ordinance should be overturned. I will say that as a woman, when I go into a locker room or public restroom, I would like my privacy and sense of decency protected.
Another part of HB 2 was the elimination of the ability to file a workplace discrimination case in state court. Although the legislature restored the right at the end of the session, it capped the statute of limitations at one year instead of three. Do you agree with that decision? Should it be restored to three or expanded? Why or why not?
Redundant question per #11 above. Please see response to #11 above.