Editor’s note: This is one of a series of articles the N&O is running this week on Council of State races.
The Democratic candidates for labor commissioner read from the same page when asked about their top priorities: tougher enforcement of workplace safety.
“If we cut down on (the number) of injuries this would benefit a lot of working families in North Carolina,” said John C. Brooks.
“We need to make sure that resources are allocated appropriately within the department to make sure ... we are inspecting the right companies,” said Marlowe Foster.
“Safe work places ... are satisfying and profitable,” reads Ty Richardson’s website.
The three candidates are vying for the opportunity to challenge incumbent Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, a Republican first elected in 2000.
What separates Brooks, Foster and Richardson – who all live in the Raleigh area – is experience and style.
Brooks, 75, served for 15 years as the state’s labor commissioner starting in 1977. He is a former staff attorney at the N.C. Industrial Commission who tried to win back his elected post in 2008 but lost in a runoff election.
Brooks said he would double the enforcement staff at the agency to toughen inspections of workplace safety. He calls the state anti-worker and opposes efforts to move UNC system workers out from under the state personnel act.
“The commissioner doesn’t speak out against protecting benefits for workers,” he said, criticizing the Republican legislature’s agenda. “This propelled me into running. Somebody’s got to be a spokesperson for working people.”
Foster, 39, is making his first statewide bid for elected office. He is a registered lobbyist for Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company – a label he is embracing in his campaign. “A lobbyist is an advocate,” he said. “I think the people of North Carolina deserve an advocate for them in the Department of Labor.”
In addition to being a vocal advocate for workers, Foster said he would work with the community college system to develop training programs for skilled trade jobs.
He touts his ability to mount a serious statewide campaign in November, citing his superior fundraising. “People are ready for a change, a younger fresh, new-idea candidate,” Foster said.
Richardson, 62, placed third out of four candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary for labor commissioner, his first try for statewide office.
He is a former Marine who worked for the state’s emergency management division and helped Democratic political campaigns at the state and local level.
Richardson, who did not respond to interview requests, touts a worker’s bill of rights on his campaign website. He also wants zero tolerance for repeat safety violators.