Unprotected labor

From an editorial Monday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

Cherie Berry’s idea of helping North Carolina businesses do right by their workers is to ask them politely and avoid confrontation. That’s always been a curious attitude on the part of Berry, a Republican elected to her post in 2000 and re-elected three times.

A more apt title for her job, given the way she’s handled it, would be “Business Commissioner.” If a business, or businesses, believe they can treat workers however they like without fear of being pursued by the Labor Department, guess what? Many workers don’t get treated very well.

This past Sunday, The N&O’s Mandy Locke explored how the Labor Department, which is supposed to protect workers, doesn’t.

Thousands of workers in the state have to fight to get wages they’re due but haven’t been paid. In some cases, those workers may be immigrants who came to the country illegally. In other cases, they may be part-time workers. Employers, no doubt knowing that they’ve nothing to fear from Commissioner Berry, just simply don’t pay some of these people.

That should trigger a vehement response from the commissioner’s office. But Berry’s attitude clearly is that she’d prefer if workers so wronged just fought the fight themselves, getting lawyers and taking their scofflaw employers to court. The problem with that is that workers usually lack the resources to wage a legal fight.

The Department of Labor isn’t doing its job for working people. Commissioner Berry is ultimately responsible, and if she has no interest in workers’ rights then she is in the wrong job, period.