Sunday the Charlotte Observer printed an interview with Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry. The interview covered her reaction to the groundbreaking investigation of the House of Raeford poultry plants.
Shocking is the only word that can be used to describe Berry’s reaction. I thought a few weeks ago that her out of touch reaction of saying that we need to do more outreach to the Hispanic community was bad enough. Sunday she topped that ten times over.
Below are some excerpts from the interview.
Q. Workplace safety inspections at the state's poultry plants have dropped sharply in the years since you've been labor commissioner. Given that, how confident are you that the state will be able to catch most of the serious problems that exist inside plants?
According to the Employment Security Commission, there are 37 poultry sites in the state. Last (fiscal) year we visited eight, so that's about 22 percent. But let me emphasize ... that the last fatality at a poultry facility was March 14, 2004. And that was when a worker fell doing ventilation work. Since that date, 103 construction workers have lost their lives. And I think your readers would understand the need for a comprehensive approach to worker safety. ... You have to understand, you have to have a reason to do an inspection. We can't just go and inspect.
Q. Researchers -- along with some current and former OSHA officials -- have concluded that the government's official injury rates are inaccurate because many injuries inside workplaces don't get reported. We also found that, for a variety of reasons, many injured poultry workers aren't winding up on company injury logs. Will your department take any additional steps to ensure that company injury logs reflect reality?
Well, I find it offensive that it seems to me you're suggesting that not keeping the proper paperwork is commonplace in our business community. I just don't find that. ... We're going to keep doing what we're doing because it's working. And, no amount of ink and paper in the world that you generate is going to stop us from doing the good job we're doing.
I have also posted in full Robin Anderson’s (my candidate) press release on the subject.
Robin Anderson Outraged over Berry’s Responses in Interview
March 10, 2008
Raleigh – In response to Commissioner Cherie Berry’s interview with the Charlotte Observer published Sunday March 9th, Labor Commissioner Candidate Robin Anderson released the following statement.
“The Commissioner of Labor is charged with the duty to inspect factories for safety violations and enforce the laws of this state. Commissioner Berry was not elected to be a champion of companies who continue to violate them.”
In her interview with reporter Ames Alexander, Berry was asked about a number of specific charges made by the newspaper in its investigation of the deplorable working conditions in poultry plants in North Carolina, specifically the House of Raeford. In response to the drop in the number of safety inspections while she has been in office, Berry stated that “…You have to have a reason to do an inspection. We can’t just go and inspect.”
Anderson responded, “What is she waiting for? Someone else to be seriously injured? The Labor Commissioner is legally required to inspect factories for workplace safety violations. After 7 years in office it is shocking that Berry has yet to understand her responsibilities.”
When asked whether some companies could be underreporting injuries, Berry declared that she was offended by the suggestion that companies may not keep proper records. Berry went on to say that she would not change what she was doing simply because of ‘ink and paper’ from media reports or investigations. Berry refused to agree that stiff penalties for willful violations were necessary, stating that no company would change its ways because of fines. She went on to add that she should be re-elected because of her ability to appease the business community.
Anderson responded, “Berry has failed in her duty to inspect factories and to punish companies that refuse to play by the rules. Our workers can not afford 4 more years of being ignored. They deserve a leader who will carry out the duties and obligations of the labor laws and champion their rights. The hard working families of North Carolina deserve a Labor Commissioner who will do the job she was elected to do.”
Robin Anderson is a candidate for Commissioner of Labor. She has 18 years of employment and labor law experience in North Carolina. A graduate of UNC School of Law, she is a partner at Nicholls & Crampton, P.A. of Raleigh and she currently serves as the first female chair of the State Personnel Commission.
The workers of North Carolina deserve someone who will actually do the job. Berry has failed, and seems to be proud of that.
We deserve someone who will work for us.