Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Greensboro attorney and former Raleigh mayor want Labor Department to clamp down on employers they say aren't being held accountable
RALEIGH The March 15 primary will decide which Democrat - former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker
or Greensboro attorney and activist Mazie Ferguson
- will face incumbent Republican Cherie Berry this fall in the race for commissioner of labor.
Meeker cites his experience as mayor as a reason Democratic primary voters should vote for him. "I can help energize the Department of Labor so it can do its job," Meeker said.
Ferguson, who was a maid in the 1960s, cites her work in entry levels of the labor market as a reason voters should choose her. "I identify with workers,"
Ferguson said. "I am bothered by the fact that men and women have to work overtime and not be compensated for it. Nobody is pushing for those who have not been paid their overtime."
Meeker is currently an attorney in private practice. He was mayor of Raleigh for 10 years and served on the Raleigh City Council for eight years before that. He is a graduate of Yale University and also graduated from the Columbia University School of Law.
Ferguson is also a teacher, pastor, and theologian. She has a bachelor's degree from South Carolina State University and graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She has certificates from the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Harvard University's Management Development Program, and UNC-Chapel Hill. She has worked as an attorney for N.C. A&T State University.
"I have worked on behalf of workers since 1963,"
Ferguson said, saying she has strong feelings "in my gut" for workers. "If it's not in your guts, you don't stay up at night working for workers,"
Ferguson said she thinks North Carolina needs to pay a living wage to its workers. The state Department of Labor also needs to go back and review thousands of cases filed by workers against their employers that were "summarily dismissed" by the current commissioner, she said. She also believes that some worker training money given to the state by the federal government wasn't used properly.
Meeker said protecting worker safety is the Department of Labor's most important role. "We have dozens and dozens of serious accidents every year,"
he said. "I'd like to focus more strongly on that."
"The Department of Labor currently isn't doing its job as well as it should,"
Meeker said. He also said he wants to make sure workers get paid all the wages they are owed.
Meeker added that he wants to make sure workers are classified correctly so that full-time employees aren't classified mistakenly as independent contractors. Independent contractors do not qualify for certain job-related benefits, such as unemployment insurance and worker's compensation.
Meeker also says if he becomes commissioner, he would remove the photograph of Berry that is on inspection certificates in all North Carolina elevators and not replace the picture with one of himself.