REPORT: Empowering NC’s Department of Labor to Protect Working Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

A collaboration of the NC State AFL-CIO, Black Workers for Justice, National Black Worker Center, North Carolina Association of Educators, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Employment Law Project, NC Raise Up/Fight for $15, ROC Asheville, Local 23, UE Local 150, Working America, NC Justice Center, and Workers United of Western North Carolina.

This post originally appeared on the NC Justice Center website (source).

North Carolina’s Department of Labor (NCDOL) is one of the most important agencies in state government for protecting public health during the pandemic and promoting a strong and fair economy for all North Carolinians. In recent years, however – and especially during the COVID-19 crisis – the Department has not been achieving its mission. As the pandemic has worsened, the NCDOL has failed to take the type of strong actions that labor agencies in other states have taken to protect workers and the economy. With Josh Dobson taking office as North Carolina’s new Labor Commissioner in 2021, NCDOL has an opportunity to modernize its systems and take proactive steps to more effectively protect the state’s workers, responsible employers, and the economy during the pandemic and beyond.

This roadmap outlines recommendations for updating and improving NCDOL’s effectiveness in its critical mission areas of ensuring that: North Carolinians have safe and healthy workplaces; workers receive the pay they are legally owed; responsible businesses are not forced to compete with law-breakers; workers who speak up for their rights do not experience retaliation; and migrant workers have access to safe housing.

It recommends that NCDOL:

  1. Rebuild the Department’s capacity with adequate staffing and funding; training and new complaint systems; increased bilingual capacity; and enhanced transparency.
  2. Protect worker health and safety during the pandemic and beyond by acting quickly to adopt a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), followed by a permanent infectious disease standard, and an ergonomics standard; investigating existing COVID-19 complaints and setting priorities for investigations; improving education of employers and employees; and boosting penalties.
  3. Crack down on wage theft and misclassification by updating guidance and regulations; developing a strategic enforcement plan; using all available enforcement tools; and fighting misclassification, non-compete agreements, and no-poaching requirements.
  4. Strengthen protections for North Carolina workers under the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) by launching an enforcement and public education initiative; extending the deadline for complaints; clarifying protection against immigration-based retaliation; providing comprehensive data; and supporting legislation to strengthen REDA.
  5. Protect workers’ right to organize by updating NCDOL’s workplace rights notice, and supporting legislation to authorize public sector collective bargaining and the repeal of right-to-work.
  6. Protect migrant workers by improving enforcement of migrant housing standards and supporting strengthened standards.

Read the report (PDF):