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Thom Tillis cites U.K. law to justify payments to former staffers

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Both resigned after caught sleeping with lobbyists

What happened last year when unemployment insurance lapsed for almost 40,000 North Carolinians due to a technicality?

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis left the lives of those workers in limbo for 47 days to extort budget concessions from Governor Perdue. The impasse didn't end until the Governor resorted to issuing an executive order that the benefits be restored.

Fast forward to Wednesday when it was revealed that two ex-members of Thom Tillis staff - both of whom resigned after being caught having inappropriate, intimate relationships with corporate lobbyists - received checks equal to a full-months' pay at taxpayer expense.

The News & Observer reports that Tillis' former chief of staff, Charles Thomas, received $12,500, and Amy Hobbs, his former policy advisory, got $6,833.33.

Tillis defended the payments to Thomas and Hobbs by citing a Wikipedia entry on the Employment Rights Act of 1996 in the United Kingdom before asking reporters to consider the "human side" of unemployment:

In a brief interview Wednesday as the legislature was about to begin its session for the year, Tillis defended the payments as part of the “human side” that takes into account families who were affected by the abrupt job losses. He said that Hobbs is a single mother.

Asked why employees who resigned would receive a month of additional pay, Tillis said: “I would hope people would think of these two who were in devastating personal situations.”

MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the NC State AFL-CIO, responded to Tillis' new-found appreciation for the "human side" of unemployment and his call to think of the families of the unemployed in a letter to the editor:

I was pleased to read that Speaker Thom Tillis wants to consider the “human side” when people lose their jobs (May 17 news article). I hope that means he will never again hold unemployment benefits hostage like he did last spring when over 40,000 families went without benefits for 47 days. Surely the speaker’s new concern for the jobless also means that he won’t support any cuts in unemployment benefits. It’s hard for single moms, like Tillis’ former staffer, to get by on the $350 per week maximum that business leaders are advocating.

I am also encouraged by Tillis’ interest in the labor law of the United Kingdom. North Carolina workers could benefit from protection against unfair dismissal, time off for parenting, flexible work schedules and paid time off for civic duties – all of which are guaranteed under the U.K.’s Employment Rights Act of 1996.

Since Tillis cited this law as grounds for severance pay for his staff who resigned, I am hopeful he will make it the law of the land for all North Carolinians.

We look forward to working with Thom Tillis to raise the level of legal protections for workers in North Carolina up to the high standards set out in U.K. labor law and currently reserved, here, just for Tillis' staff.