Senator Kay Hagan was the keynote speaker at the North Carolina AFL-CIO's annual convention last week at the Hilton in North Raleigh. At the event, the union leadership urged the rank-and-file to throw their fundraising weight behind Hagan, who has rebranded herself as "The Most Moderate Senator" in preparation for her race against Thom Tillis. While AFL members and chapters seemed excited about Hagan, the pairing was a bit of an awkward date. Just before Sen. Hagan arrived, Ben Wilkins, an organizer for NC Raise Up!, called for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. When Hagan spoke, she pledged to get North Carolinians $10.10, and then spoke about equal pay and elder care, barely mentioning labor rights. Regardless, her speech met with thunderous applause. After her speech, Sen. Hagan stepped aside with the INDY a brief interview.
INDY: Why have you supported the USDA's Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule? The forthcoming rule has been heavily criticized by food safety and workers groups for reclassifying USDA inspectors and speeding up factory lines. How is it supportive of worker's rights?
I believe that this is a public safety issue, and I support the modernization of the poultry rule because of its benefit to public health. Of course I am concerned about worker safety and I believe that we need oversight. I was very pleased that the USDA and the Labor Dept. agreed to set up a special hotline to report hazardous working conditions and I will keep a close eye to ensure safe working conditions at these plants if the rule is finalized.
You voted for the Comprehensive Immigration Overhaul last year but asked Obama not to pass the executive order on immigration. Where are you on immigration?
What I support is a common sense, bipartisan immigration policy that passed the Senate. I stand fully behind that. It's very broad in many different areas. Speaker Boehner in the House should bring that bill up or similar bills so we can go into conference and get immigration reform passed, which would solve all of those issues. That's a big issue in North Carolina—our agriculture community is supportive, our local chambers are supportive, our high-tech industry, our universities. This has a huge impact in North Carolina and we need to take action on that. I think it's Congressional action, just like we've done in the Senate and I have supported.
Are you worried about alienating Latino voters by opposing Obama's executive order?
I have supported congressional reform. Everybody knows where I stand on this.
Why have you distanced yourself from Moral Monday when those were the same folks who got you elected in 2008?
] You know, I think Reverend Barber who has sort of championed that has done a very good job spelling out to the North Carolina public the disastrous policies that Speaker Tillis has been putting forward in Raleigh. I spend a lot of time in Washington, that's why I haven't actually been present—but I'm certainly supportive.
There has been a lot of uproar about the closure of Vidant Pungo Hospital in the eastern part of the state. The Republican mayor of Belhaven, N.C., Adam O'Neal, walked to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness on the issue. Where are you on the Vidant Pungo situation?
I have personally met with Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal to discuss the Vidant Pungo Hospital closure, and have repeatedly expressed opposition against Speaker Tillis' reckless decision to reject Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. Because of Speaker Tillis' decision, 500,000 North Carolinians were denied healthcare and rural hospitals in North Carolina, like Vidant Pungo, have taken a significant hit. Because Speaker Tillis rejected expanded Medicaid, North Carolina is giving $10 billion in taxpayer dollars to other states to pay for their Medicaid expansion.