Politics & Government

NC Democrats file bill to raise minimum wage, require paid sick leave

Rep. Pricey Harrison, left, a Greensboro Democrat, talks with Rep. Darren Jackson, Democratic leader of the N.C. House, on the House floor as the N.C. General Assembly convenes at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, NC, on Jan. 25, 2017
Rep. Pricey Harrison, left, a Greensboro Democrat, talks with Rep. Darren Jackson, Democratic leader of the N.C. House, on the House floor as the N.C. General Assembly convenes at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, NC, on Jan. 25, 2017 cseward@newsobserver.com

Legislative Democrats rolled out an economic bill Thursday that would raise the state’s minimum wage, allow collective bargaining and require employers to offer paid sick and family medical leave.

The bill in its current form is unlikely to get a hearing in the Republican-dominated House and Senate. But Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, said she’s hopeful that “some of the provisions in this bill have fairly broad bipartisan support,” such as a proposal to “ban the box” that requires convicted felons to disclose that information on job applications.

Republicans, however, have long opposed a major increase in the state’s minimum wage. The Democrats’ bill would gradually raise the minimum from $7.25 to $15 per hour in 2021.

“I’m not hopeful on minimum wage,” Harrison said. “That’s just something that’s the right thing to do, and we need to keep talking about it.”

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, was critical of the bill. “As usual, the Democrats’ plan includes big gifts to corrupt out-of-state unions as well as more regulations on business that would reduce opportunities for job seekers,” Woodhouse said. “This is why our side is in charge – to stop this stuff the voters long ago rejected.”

In addition to minimum wage increases, here’s what Democrats have included in the “Economic Security Act of 2017,” which has been filed in both the House and Senate.

Equal pay for women: The bill would require employers to pay the same wages as employees of the opposite sex earn “for the same quantity and quality of the same classification of work” with exceptions for seniority and other factors that might result in different pay.

“North Carolina women make on average 85 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make,” said Sen. Valerie Foushee, a Hillsborough Democrat. “It is time to give them the respect they reserve by acknowledging them as equals in the workplace.”

Collective bargaining: The bill would repeal North Carolina’s longstanding ban on collective bargaining for unions representing government employees.

“North Carolina is one of the few states that puts these restrictions on our most valuable state employees,” said Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat, adding that the change would give workers “freedom to lobby for fair pay and power to defend themselves against unjust bosses.”

Paid leave: The bill would require employers to let all workers accrue an hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employers could require a doctor’s note when an employee takes sick time more than three days in a row. Workers could use sick time for their own illness or to care for a sick family member.

Earned income tax credit: The bill would bring back the earned income tax credit, which the legislature eliminated several years ago and replaced with a higher standard deduction for personal income taxpayers. Tax credits would also be available for child care expenses.

“It is not a handout, it is a hand up,” said Rep. Yvonne Holley, a Raleigh Democrat. “North Carolina is the only state in the country that has done away with the earned income tax credit. It was a mistake and we need to bring it back.”

Banning “the box” on job applications: The bill would ban government agencies from asking about a job applicant’s criminal record until the employer has made a “conditional offer of employment.”

Sen. Ben Clark, a Raeford Democrat, said the state should “ban the box” to help former offenders get a chance at employment.

“Essentially, we are subjecting them to second-class citizenry,” Clark said. “These individuals have served their time, they have made their amends to society, and they deserve a fair chance of economic security just like the rest of us.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

  Comments