The gathering was small, hardly a major demonstration, and even passersby might not have noticed it in a Capital City where there are marches and the like all the time.
But this was profoundly important.
Friday was Workers Memorial Day, created by the AFL-CIO in 1970.
And in Raleigh, those 50 people gathered in remembrance of the 150 workers who died on the job in North Carolina in 2015. Because of the way the state Labor Department calculates such deaths, counting only those fatalities being investigated by the state Occupational Safety & Health Division, the department counts 42 deaths in 2015.
Many workers who die don’t get much attention because state and federal laws prohibit state investigation. Those sorts of narrow laws should be changed, but change is unlikely, of course, under the anti-regulatory philosophy of President Trump.
State Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry has never attended the memorial. In her 16-year tenure, the Republican commissioner has ridden her name recognition to multiple election wins despite a lackluster record when it comes to standing up for workers’ rights. In fact, the commissioner is more the commissioner of business than of labor, opposing heavy fines and other punishments for business caught in labor law violations – on the argument that it’s better if businesses are given a chance to fix things rather than penalized.
Of course, it often takes a stiff penalty to get the attention of business people who in some cases habitually break the law.
What this sad occasion ought to do is prompt legislators and Gov. Roy Cooper to push for more, not less, business regulation whenever worker safety is involved. It’s more important than ever in North Carolina, where there are jobs that are inherently hazardous, from construction to animal processing operations. .
Cooper might look at it. But the Republicans in the General Assembly, determined to deregulate business to the point of virtually no regulation, will change nothing for the benefit of average workers.
Here’s the foolishness in that. Worker safety isn’t a partisan issue, or should not be. But Republicans are doing their best to make it one, and not to their benefit. If they’ll do a head count, they will find that there are many more average workers in North Carolina than there are corporate titans. Continuing to neglect those workers ultimately will have political consequences whether the GOP wants to believe it or not.