October 16, 2015
The Reluctant Regulator, Cherie Berry
The North Carolina Department of Labor allowed deadbeat employers to steal $1 million in wages from their employees last year. When those 617 workers turned to their Labor Commissioner, Cherie Berry, for help, she turned them away, closing their cases almost as soon as they had been opened, according to reporting by Mandy Locke at the News & Observer about our “Reluctant Regulator”.
North Carolina has a simple requirement of employers: Pay your workers what you promise. When bosses don’t, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry’s team has the duty under state law to step in and try to make it right.
But for years, Berry’s Labor Department has rarely pushed uncooperative companies to settle debts to their employees. The News & Observer reviewed reports from nearly 50 cases in fiscal year 2014 that resulted in little or no money for workers. If a company owner pleaded poverty or refused to pay, state investigators nearly always gave up. If the employer simply ignored them, the department closed the case.
Jessica Hendricks, a social worker from Cary who says Williams owed her $3,000, couldn’t believe the Labor Department retreated so readily. “The labor board said there was nothing they could do about it, which is crazy,” Hendricks said. “Whether he shut down or not, that money is still owed to me.”
The Labor Department left hundreds of workers hanging in 2014. For some, like Hendricks, investigators closed the books on the case the moment they discovered the business had shuttered.
For claims that investigators were fully able to investigate and validate for 1,521 workers, roughly 40 percent of the workers didn’t get the help they requested. Investigators did not collect $1 million in wages they determined were owed to 617 workers.
That amount was nearly half of the money investigators found was due. Those wages were, in effect, stolen from workers who count on each paycheck to pay bills and buy food.