It is hard to say exactly what N.C. Chamber CEO Lew Ebert had in mind when he finally decided to respond to HB2, the ill-conceived law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.
Ebert’s statement is muddled, weak and of little consequence. HB2 attempts to limit access to bathrooms for transgender people, who typically have used, without incident, the bathrooms designated for those of the gender with which they identify. In public places, North Carolina now would assign transgender people to the bathrooms of the sex on their birth certificates.
But Republican leaders threw in a few extras, like prohibiting localities from raising the minimum wage and forbidding them from passing their own anti-discrimination laws. It is a preposterous law, and in the months since its passage, North Carolina has lost millions of dollars in business and has had some states and institutions prohibit employees from traveling here on business. Universities report difficulty in signing scholars and landing conferences. And McCrory has stumbled around the issue, including some embarrassing appearances on national television trying to defend the law – though he at one point indicated he wouldn’t mind seeing it tweaked.
Local chambers in North Carolina have come out strongly against HB2 as bad for business now and bad for attracting new business in the future. But the state chamber, which touts itself as the strong voice of business, said nothing for more than a month.
Why was that? Likely it’s because while the chamber regrets the public relations damage of the embarrassing bathroom provisions, it welcomes the provisions that were tacked on. But those gains for business won’t mean much if the overall business climate suffers.
Ebert’s statement endorsed some minor changes, such as restoring the right of people to sue for discrimination claims in state court, which GOP lawmakers took away, but the chamber also wants a time limit on when claims could be filed, and the Department of Labor would review those claims to determine whether someone had a right to sue. Either party in a workplace discrimination suit would have the right to send the case to state business court, which specializes in tough business cases. Those recommendations are in the chamber tradition of giving every advantage possible to employers and few if any to workers.
With the weakness of his response, Ebert diminishes the credibility of his organization. What appears to matter most to the chamber is holding down labor, not promoting business.