Sorry, but while Gov. Beverly Perdue doubtless means what she says in promising that the broken oversight of workers compensation in North Carolina will be fixed, in leaving the matter in the hands of the Industrial Commission the governor hasnt offered much of a confidence-builder.
The commission has been failing miserably in an important aspect of its job, which is to ensure that businesses have workers compensation insurance and that they pay up when workers are hurt.
And Commission Chair Pamela Thorpe Young has repeatedly declined to answer questions or comment publicly since The News & Observer reported last Sunday on the commissions pathetic performance. An N&O investigation showed that more than 30,000 businesses in the state simply didnt have workers comp coverage, though it is required by law and to not follow that law is a felony.
Thats unfair to workers, who can be left out in the cold with huge expenses and no jobs as theyre forced to sue their employers in a long, troublesome process. Or, in this job climate, one wonders if some workers might try to continue working out of necessity to feed their families and not report injuries for fear of losing their jobs. The state, after all, doesnt have that many protections for working people in general.
To allow the slackers among business owners to slack is unfair to the businesses that are making an effort to get the insurance and paying up and following the law.
And its not as if commissioners, political appointees (six-year terms, with reappointment possible) of governors, are doing the job out of the goodness of their hearts. They are paid $119,304 a year, and thats for indoor work with no heavy lifting.
Actually, it appears they havent been lifting much more than a teacup.
Commissioners (staff members do most of the technical work) are Bernadine Ballance, appointed by former Gov. Jim Hunt first in 1994; Young, appointed as chair by former Gov. Mike Easley in 2007; Staci Meyer, appointed by Easley in 2009; Danny Lee McDonald, appointed in 2007 by Easley; Linda Cheatham, appointed by Perdue in 2010; Tammy R. Nance, appointed by Perdue in 2011; and Christopher Scott, appointed by Hunt in 1997.
Some commissioners have been government attorneys, others business people, some lobbyists. Its fair to say they have political connections in one way or another. Attorney Ballance, for example, is the wife of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance (who happens to have served a stretch in prison on corruption charges).
The job of the commission isnt getting done, and workers thus are in peril. In addition, businesses that forgo the insurance requirement are thumbing their noses at the law. What is so complicated about this? The laws being broken, its easy enough for the commission to find out who is breaking it, and the penalties are clear. But the commission twiddles.
And Young says (in a prepared statement) that shell oversee the fix?
No, thats not going to do it. How can the public have confidence that the commission will fix itself given its embarrassing performance?
Perdue needs to get outside help to prescribe a solution, and she needs to do it quickly if she wants the public to believe she is sincere about addressing this problem.
And, while governors do not like taking action against their appointees or those of their predecessors, Gov. Perdue should not hesitate, if she determines it is justified, to call for the resignations of current commissioners. This is a well-paid panel that owes the citizens a good days work, which means protecting workers who are hurt on the job and pulling the reins on employers who think they can just skip out on a legal obligation to protect those workers.
Perdue, who isnt seeking re-election and is in the final year of her term, has prided herself on being a governor most concerned about the needs of the average citizens of this state those folks who are working for a living and doing their part for their families and their neighbors.
OK, governor. Heres one good way to stand up for those people with more than words and promises.