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BURNED ALIVE: NC Workplace Safety in Focus at Town Hall

Jeremy Sprinkle
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For Immediate Release

September 29, 2021

Workplace Safety at Issue in Town Hall with New NC Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson

“We had two people burned alive in September of last year, and two people were blown up less than 40 days ago.”

“Make companies protect us, and hold them accountable when they put us in danger.”

“This is a conversation about life and death.”

(RALEIGH) Over 150 people joined the first-ever North Carolina Worker Safety Town Hall, September 28th. During the online event, workers shared powerful testimonies about workplace safety issues in their respective industries and advocated for better enforcement priorities, as North Carolina ranks as the worst state for workers (Oxfam, 2021), to newly elected NC Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson, who was in attendance to hear their concerns. The town hall was hosted on Zoom and broadcast live on Facebook.

Watch the recording of the Facebook Live broadcast at

The town hall began with an overview of the roles of the North Carolina Department of Labor, primarily its Occupational, Safety, and Health Division, which has the responsibility of investigating and preventing workplace injuries, deaths, and diseases like COVID-19. 

In the testimonies that followed, one worker after another called on the Department to do more to protect their lives and livelihoods and to take its responsibilities seriously, especially when workers summon the courage to file a health and safety complaint against their employers.

“We do what we do with love and compassion in our hearts and just know that it takes a lot for us to bring a complaint forward,” said Tolanda Barnette, a child care teacher in Durham. “I want the Department to look at the great risk we take speaking up, treat each case seriously, and go to great lengths to prevent employers from violating our rights.”

“Don’t just talk to the employers when investigating complaints; talk to the workers who filed the complaints,” said Jamila Allen, a fast-food worker in Durham who has had to go on strike with her coworkers three times in the past year over safety issues. “Make companies protect us, and hold them accountable when they put us in danger.”

“This is a conversation about life and death,” said Nichel Dunlap Thompson, a paratransit operator for CATS in Charlotte. “We need some urgent, meaningful, live-saving standards put into place.”

“In the past couple of weeks, six bus operators have been assaulted and one of them is in the hospital,” said GoDurham bus operator Tameka Walker, who attributed the assaults to passengers refusing to wear face masks.

Pandemic-related threats to workplace safety were not the only concerns voiced by workers in the town hall. Worker misclassification and employer neglect in the absence of robust oversight and enforcement by the Department of Labor remain a problem. 

“Just last month, I was on a jobsite where workers had neither fall protection nor hard hats,” said Isael Mejia, an ironworker in Charlotte who credited his union for stepping in when regulators have failed to act. “I fear for workers without the protection of a collective bargaining agreement,” he said.

The failure of the Department of Labor to get to the bottom of repeated workplace safety violations can have horrific consequences.

“We had two people burned alive in September of last year, and two people were blown up less than 40 days ago,” said Troy Dills, a paper worker and local president of the union at the paper mill in Canton, NC. “I challenge Mr. Dobson to step in, come and investigate, and find the root cause because God forbid we have another flood.”

The NC Workers Safety Town Hall was convened by an informal working group seeking to develop, through regular meetings and events, an understanding with Commissioner Dobson about how the Department can improve the lives and safety of all working class North Carolinians. The group includes the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Public Service Workers Union UE Local 150, Black Workers for Justice, the Western NC Workers Center, NC Raise Up / Fight for $15, the NC Justice Center, and the NC State AFL-CIO.

Contact: Jeremy Sprinkle, Communications Director, 336-255-2711 / [email protected] 


The North Carolina State AFL-CIO is the largest association of unions of working people in North Carolina, representing over a hundred thousand members, working together for good jobs, safe workplaces, worker’s rights, consumer protections and quality public services on behalf of ALL working people. P.O. Box 10805, Raleigh, NC, 27605