North Carolina Department of Labor Commissioner-slash-Elevator Queen Cherie Berry
is so well known, she's inspired songs
dedicated to her. Who doesn't love the smiling commissioner with the delightfully fruity-sounding name whose picture is in every elevator in the state?
Well, probably most people who have actually had to deal with Cherie Berry's Department of Labor aren't the biggest fans of Cherie Berry.
A News and Observer
investigation last fall revealed that Berry's department has fallen well short
in ensuring that the state's employees are paid their wages, that they are correctly classified as employees rather than as contractors (so they can receive benefits) and that workers are safe in the workplace.
Charles Meeker—former mayor of Raleigh and, disclosure, the brother of INDY Week
co-owner Richard Meeker—says he is running for the commissioner of labor seat in order to address these areas where the Department of Labor has fallen short, and he refuses to get on the bandwagon of shameless self-promotion.
If he's elected, Meeker says, he will replace the elevator pictures of the labor commissioner with pictures of working North Carolinians: with first responders including police officers and firefighters, with teachers, possibly with truck drivers with long, safe driving records. You know, regular, deserving working folk who are actually making a difference in North Carolina. These workers would be chosen by a committee on a periodic basis, and every elevator wouldn't necessarily feature the same faces.
"It is sort of symbolic but it ought to be quite simple, the Department of Labor ought to be honoring working people, not promoting a politician," Meeker said at a press conference Wednesday morning. "It's an idea I think makes a lot of sense, as the Department of Labor should be honoring the right people, the people who work hard and do a great job."
If elected, Meeker also plans to update other information on elevators' certificates of operation, including the safety message. Currently, the message directs riders to report elevator injuries to the Department of Labor within 24 hours. The new message would instruct riders to call 911 right away, because we all have cellphones now, unlike 20 or 30 years ago. Meeker says he will also add a hotline number to the elevator safety message, so people can call if they have any kind of employment concern.
"Most people are surprised to hear that in 2014, 128 North Carolinians were killed in the workplace and many more were seriously injured," Meeker says. "The Department of Labor is currently broken. My focus will be on fixing it, not on self-promotion through an elevator picture. Let’s replace her picture and make our Department of Labor do its job for our citizens, workers and businesses."
Meeker says that, while Berry's elevator picture may have contributed to a rise in her profile over her last ten years, he now believes people see the picture as a liability, since the full extent of the problems at the department have been exposed. He doesn't think not having his picture in elevators will hurt his chances of re-election, if he is elected labor commissioner this year.
"Now, most people get in the elevator and make fun of [the picture] because they realize the department is not actually doing its job," he says.