The elected office of Commissioner of Labor has been a low-profile one under incumbent Cherie Berry. It should not be. North Carolina workers rarely are in unions, and their on-the-job protections are few. This office under Berry has been more of a friend to business, reluctant to punish or fine in the case of violations. That’s not the idea behind having such an office.
In this race, North Carolinians have a chance to make a significant and positive change. Democrat Charles Meeker, 66, an attorney and five-term mayor of Raleigh, offers a progressive view of this office, in that it should protect the rights of workers and engage in responsible but strict regulation of business, especially on safety matters. Meeker, who would be an activist commissioner, puts worker safety as his top priority, along with making sure that workers who are in effect full-time are classified as such.
Meeker also believes that businesses should be held accountable for accidents and for practices that put workers in danger. But his most pointed criticism of incumbent Berry has been of her acceptance of campaign contributions from corporate executives whose companies have had or may have business before her agency. Meeker took a pledge never to accept such contributions.
The proof that he would bring tremendous energy and a people-first attitude to the office can be found in his record as Raleigh mayor, when he brought diverse elements — the business community, retirees, North Raleigh, the elderly and millennials — together for the city’s best interests.
Certainly Berry wouldn’t call herself “anti-worker” or advocate not protecting the safety of workers, but in her four terms she has been primarily a friend to business, operating on a philosophy that her department should not inflict harsh punishments on those businesses that break the rules, but rather — reflecting the attitude of a Republican-dominated legislature — allow businesses to correct mistakes without many consequences. She is perhaps best known to North Carolinians as the person with her picture on elevators, which her office oversees. That’s given Berry, 69, an advantage in winning three additional terms after her first.
But she has not been a friend to working people in an office that can nobly serve to protect them. Meeker is an exceptional, outstanding choice for this office.