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NC AFL-CIO Holds Second 2020 Candidates Town Hall

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Featuring Cal Cunningham and Jessica Holmes

Over 140 union members gathered in a zoom meeting Thursday evening to participate in a virtual town hall with two statewide candidates in North Carolina. This town hall, the second in the state AFL-CIO’s "Labor 2020" series, featured US Senate candidate Cal Cunningham and NC Labor Commissioner candidate Jessica Holmes. The event highlighted the importance of these races to working people in North Carolina and touched on topics such as worker safety in the pandemic, wage theft, and racial justice.

NC AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan began the evening by emphasizing the changes these races could bring. “Tonight there is a real reason to be fired up,” she said. “If we elect Cal Cunningham and send him to the Senate, we can send Thom Tillis packing. Finally we will have a senator who will raise wages, protect workers’ rights, and create safer jobs.”

President McMillan also called for a new face and way of thinking at the helm of the NC Department of Labor. “Just imagine what we can do if we elect Jessica Holmes. For the first time in 20 years we will have a labor commissioner who believes it’s her job to protect workers’ safety and workers’ wages.”

The first half of the program featured questions about a variety of issues important to workers in North Carolina. Jessica Holmes highlighted how her department would handle corporate wage theft differently than current Commissioner Cherie Berry. “I consider [wage theft] to be robbery,” Holmes said. “It not only robs the employee but robs the family of access to benefits like healthcare. My office will much more aggressively seek to recover these wages and take businesses to court if necessary.”

Cal Cunningham took a question on the minimum wage. “We need to get to a living wage in every community,” he said. “In the last few years, the cost of childcare has gone up, the cost of sending a kid to college has gone up, the cost of rent has gone up, but wages have not. Thom Tillis thinks there shouldn’t be a minimum wage at all.”

Both candidates addressed a question on how each of them in their offices could further the cause of racial justice. Jessica Holmes emphasized how racial disparity shows up in the current pandemic. “In Wake County, Black and Brown people make up about 35 percent of the population and 70 percent of the confirmed COVID cases.” 

Cal Cunningham said it was the responsibility of all to speak out against racism. “We are all called to lend our voices, first by going into the streets.”

Candidates also took questions from members about a variety of issues, including COVID worker protections, “right-to-work” laws, collective bargaining, and the HEROES Act. Both candidates called for Senate action on the HEROES act, a stimulus and recovery bill passed by the House of Representatives in May. 

NC AFL-CIO staff shared an opportunity for attendees to take action by calling on NC Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to vote yes on the HEROES Act. 

Take action to win passage of the HEROES Act in the US Senate.

Candidates closed out the night by calling on voters and members to turn out to vote in November. “I will be your champion,” Holmes said. “I am not scared of big business. I am not scared of standing up for you.”

NC AFL-CIO staff also shared opportunities for union members, retirees, and their families to get involved with the 2020 campaign by supporting labor-endorsed candidates through phone-banking, text-banking, registering voters, and voting. 

Register now for the 63rd Annual Convention

Both Cal Cunningham and Jessica Holmes will be featured speakers at the NC AFL-CIO’s 63rd Annual Convention, which will be held online via Zoom, September 24-25, 2020. Other featured speakers will include Governor Roy Cooper, CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens, and International Vice President of USW Fred Redmond. Affiliated local unions and union councils and their authorized guests can pre-register for the convention online at

Read this blog post for more information about our 63rd Annual Convention.